Despite new recall, many in Valley not staying away from Foster Farms chicken

jfarrow@modbee.comJuly 4, 2014 

The first recall announcement of Foster Farms chicken since a salmonella outbreak in March 2013 came less than 24 hours before the nation’s biggest day for grilling – the Fourth of July.

But an unscientific survey at Modesto’s Independence Day parade suggests most people – at least here in the San Joaquin Valley, where Foster Farms is based – feel they handle and cook chicken adequately and are not shying away from it.

“We just make sure it’s done well – always have,” said Manuel Franco of Modesto, who added that while barbecued chicken isn’t on the menu this holiday weekend, chicken is a popular food in his household. “We wash everything well – our hands, the countertops, everything.”

That’s in keeping with recommendations from Foster Farms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other experts. In announcing Foster Farms’ voluntary recall on Thursday, the USDA said it’s important that chicken be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

The recall is not of products still in stores, but chicken processed in March with “use or freeze by” dates ranging from March 21 to March 29. “Only products made in California within this specific March time frame and with plant codes of P-6137, P-6137A and P-7632 are involved,” Foster Farms announced.

The USDA said its Food Safety and Inspection Service “was notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of a salmonella Heidelberg illness on June 23 associated with the consumption of a boneless, skinless chicken breast product. Working in conjunction with CDC, FSIS determined that there is a link between boneless, skinless chicken breast products from Foster Farms and this illness.”

The inspection service said one person in the state got sick on May 5.

The salmonella outbreak has been in the news long enough that people at the Modesto parade Friday didn’t seem fazed by it.

Kyle and Kristen Dobbins of Modesto said they’re going to visit relatives for their holiday meal and weren’t sure what is on the menu. “But we will grill tomorrow, and it will be chicken,” Kristen said.

“We eat chicken all the time, almost exclusively grilled,” Kyle added. Both said they’re careful in handling poultry, not to cross-contaminate from cutting boards to countertops or serving platters or utensils, and make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked. The salmonella outbreak didn’t cut into their chicken consumption, they said, and neither will the recall.

No chicken for his family this Fourth, said Tom McGuire of Hughson, but it has nothing to do with the salmonella scare. “We’re having hamburgers and hot dogs. It’s the Fourth of July – what else are you going to make?”

But McGuire and wife Pat are frequent chicken grillers, and while the method they employ doesn’t sound like it would win approval from the USDA, they swear by it.

Tom says he grills the chicken about two-thirds to being done, then packs it into a foil-lined cooler for anywhere from one to three hours. In this case, the cooler traps the chicken’s heat, using it to finish the cooking. It comes out thoroughly cooked but juicy, he said. “We learned it down at our church, where they do dinners for 300, 400 people,” he said, and there’s never been a problem.

Meg Sparling and Aaron Lanser weren’t planning to grill for the Fourth. “But I was going to make barbecued chicken tomorrow, and I might reconsider that,” Sparling said.

She said Foster Farms ongoing struggle with salmonella “hasn’t stopped us from eating chicken, but it’s troubling.” Even when she eats in restaurants now, she said she’s on the alert for any “funny-tasting chicken.”

When it comes to safe handling of poultry, “everything I’ve heard is that you shouldn’t move it around. Even washing it just spreads it around.” The safest path for raw chicken, she believes, it straight from the package to the cooking surface.

If you wash chicken, Lanser said he’s learned, “then you have to detox the whole kitchen area, sink and counters.”

Eric Pylman of Modesto says he prepares chicken “when I fine a good recipe on Facebook ... or something good on Pinterest.” Asked if he considers himself careful in handling raw poultry, he laughed and said, “Cindy (his wife) is a nurse – we don’t prepare anything on wood,” instead using a plastic, machine-washable cutting board.

“Cross-contaminating would get my wrist slapped and my head hit,” Pylman said.

As for thoroughly cooking chicken on a grill, he said, “I’m good at burning things.” And if there’s any doubt about chicken being properly cooked, he shows it to Cindy. “I won’t fear losing my ‘man card’ if you say, ‘He brings it to his wife to check.’ 

Bottom line, Pylman said: None of the salmonella news has scared him away from preparing chicken. “I haven’t lost any kids yet.”

For the FSIS news release on the recall, and guidelines on safe food handling and cooking, go to http://1.usa.gov/1zdZakJ.

Bee City Editor Deke Farrow can be reached at jfarrow@modbee.com or (209) 578-2327.

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