A public health alert was issued Monday for raw chicken packaged at three Foster Farms facilities in California. Since March, some 278 people have gotten sick from salmonella Heidelberg infection, mainly in California, though the illness has reached a total of 18 states so far.
Though the USDA was first notified of the illnesses in July, the outbreak still hasn't been directly linked to a specific product or production period.
You can avoid suspect products by looking at the USDA mark of inspection. Raw products from the facilities in question will be marked with one of the establishment numbers below:
No recall is in effect, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while the Food Safety and Inspection Service continues to investigate, according to the USDA. The FSIS is one of the branches of the USDA that is continuing to work despite the government shutdown, though some of the staff has been furloughed.
A Foster Farms press release states, "It is also important to reassure the public that the FSIS process has not been affected by the recent government shutdown." Though other reports point out that because of the shutdown, investigators who conduct multi-state outbreak investigations won't be working.
A Centers for Disease Control staffer told Wired:
I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations. States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won't be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders.
And according to an ABC report:
"The Centers for Disease Control, which monitors the microbes that signal multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning, was working with a barebones staff because of the federal government shutdown, with all but two of the 80 staffers that normally analyze foodborne pathogens furloughed."
Both Foster Farms and the FSIS are taking this as an opportunity to remind consumers about the importance of fully cooking raw poultry to 165 degrees. Doing so will kill the bacteria, which can cause salmonellosis. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, chills, headache, nausea, and vomiting that can last up to seven days. Infections can be life-threatening to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, and people with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.