An outbreak of Salmonella heidelberg in chickens in at least 17 States in the USA is highlighting a number of issues relating to several elements of food safe production.
The outbreak is thought to have started in March lasted and has run through to at least September with a total so far of 317 people made ill. Of these 42% have been hospitalised. Across the seven S.heidelberg strains identified from the victims there is a high level of resistance to at least eight antibiotics. This makes normal GP prescription practices less effective and explains the high rate of hospitalisation.
The Epidemiologists found that 80% of the patients ate chicken at home before the illness, compared with 65% of a healthy control group. Nearly 80% of patients identifying the brand of chicken named Foster Farms or a brand they are known to produce. Sampling by USDA in September showed that raw chicken processed by three of the company’s plants contained one or more of the seven strains of salmonella linked to the outbreak.
Foster Farms is a major poultry producer based in California with a turnover of around $2 billion and employing around 10,000 people. The company is reported to have had previous outbreaks of S.heidelberg in 2004 and 2012. At the end of 2012 the “USDA-FSIS told all establishments producing uncooked ground or comminuted poultry products, they must reassess their HACCP Plans. A salmonella outbreak tied to raw Foster Farms chicken is reported to have begun in January this year and ended in July infecting 134 people in 13 states.
A retail customer using chickens to produce rotisserie cooked chickens was surprised to find it needed to withdraw several thousand cooked chickens contaminated with S.heidelberg. Though they claimed they were cooked thoroughly.
The USDA told Foster Farms on 7th October it would “withhold the marks of inspection and suspend the assignment of inspectors at the three facilities in California unless the firm submitted plans to prevent the persistent recurrence of salmonella contamination.”
Throughout both outbreaks the company has re-emphasised the need to cook the poultry correctly and underlined their belief that in the same period 25 million consumers have safely eaten their product.
US government agencies have said that the Debt crisis shutdown has not stopped them carrying out their usual inspection duties in the plants, and their public protection operations with regard to this outbreak.
What can we learn from this?
Should the potential of contamination from antibiotic resistant bacteria cause you to reassess your raw material specifications?
At what point do you think that a poultry supplier’s salmonella contamination levels might have become a bit too high even if you are then controlling the cooking the chickens!!!!
If you were a US company would you have added a check to your supplier audits and SSAQs to see if your poultry suppliers had revised their HACCP management plan following the USDA-FSIS instruction in January?
It has been reported that consumers interested in food safety in the USA are campaigning for salmonella to be declared an adulterant like the HUS causing E.coli bacteria.
This would make it illegal to sell any product containing salmonella.