Federal investigators have added 51 salmonella cases to an outbreak linked to three Foster Farms chicken plants, bringing the total to 481 over the past year, but the company said its prevention efforts are paying off.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced in January that the outbreak appeared to be over, with no new reports of sickened consumers, but that changed with the new findings.
The outbreak, tied to raw chicken from the massive plant in Livingston and two smaller plants in Fresno, has affected people in 25 states and Puerto Rico since it started March 1, 2013, the CDC said. Three-quarters of those affected were in California.
No deaths were reported, but 38 percent of the victims were hospitalized, the CDC said. The symptoms can include digestive problems, chills and headaches.
A smaller outbreak involving Foster Farms last year, which affected 134 consumers in 13 states but no deaths, appears to be over, the CDC said.
Foster Farms, the top-selling poultry producer in the West, employs about 3,500 people in Livingston and about 8,500 others at chicken and turkey operations in California and six other states. It has reported annual sales of $2.3 billion but said in October that the salmonella issue caused a 25 percent dip.
The bacteria brought a threat of a federal shutdown of the three plants in October, which Foster Farms averted after submitting improvement plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In January, a cockroach problem led to a three-day federal closure, followed by a 10-day voluntary shutdown that Foster Farms said would ensure that the problem was fixed. The insects can carry microbes that cause disease, officials said.
Salmonella occurs naturally in chicken, and health officials say consumers can protect themselves by cooking the meat thoroughly and washing knives, cutting boards and other objects that come in contact with the raw product.
In a written statement this week, Foster Farms said testing has found reduced levels of salmonella. The main concern is raw chicken pieces cut from whole birds. The industry benchmark is salmonella in up to 25 percent of samples, but the company said it is now under 10 percent.
“We are on the right track and have made outstanding progress,” Chief Executive Officer Ron Foster said. “Millions of consumers continue to enjoy Foster Farms poultry products each day, and we want to ensure that they have the safest, healthiest experience.”