CDC says Foster Farms outbreak appears to be over

07/31/2014 3:27 PM

07/31/2014 6:21 PM

A federal agency announced Thursday that a salmonella outbreak tied to Foster Farms chicken appears to be over.

The outbreak, involving raw chicken from plants in Livingston and Fresno, ended with 634 reports of people getting sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. No deaths were reported.

The online announcement said the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service “has determined that measures undertaken by the firm to prevent salmonella contamination of raw chicken have been successful.”

Industry and government officials say the bacteria occurs naturally in chicken but can be rendered harmless to humans with thorough cooking and cleanup. Foster Farms said it has nonetheless increased preventive measures in light of the outbreak.

The company reported finding salmonella in less than 5 percent of recent samples of raw, cut-up chicken, far less than the industry benchmark of 25 percent.

“Foster Farms has implemented and continues to utilize multiple interventions to reduce salmonella throughout its entire poultry production process,” the company said in a written statement Thursday. “This strategy includes interventions at the breeder level, at hatcheries, at grow-out farms and at the processing plant where the final product is packaged.”

The outbreak, which began in March 2013, mostly involved people in California, but consumers in 28 other states and Puerto Rico were sickened, too. The chicken came from the vast plant next to the Foster Farms headquarters in Livingston and from two smaller plants in Fresno.

The company, founded in Modesto in 1939 by Max and Verda Foster, is the top-selling poultry brand in the West. It employs about 12,000 people around the West and South, including a turkey operation in Turlock.

The CDC had said in January that the outbreak appeared to be over, but it reported in March that new cases had been found. In Thursday’s announcement, it said, “The number of reported infections has returned to the expected number for this time of year.”

Experts say salmonella tends to peak during the summer grilling season, when people might be less careful than usual about cooking and sanitation.

They recommend using a meat thermometer to ensure that chicken is cooked to at least 165 degrees. They also advise washing hands, utensils and other surfaces thoroughly and keeping raw poultry from coming in contact with other foods.

Foster Farms detailed its measures against salmonella as part of its 75th anniversary celebration in June. It also paid for a UC Davis study that involved videos of selected consumers handling chicken.

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