An estimated 278 people in 18 states have been sickened in a salmonella outbreak linked to chicken produced in California, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday.
"The outbreak is continuing," the USDA says in a public health alert naming three facilities operated by Foster Farms as the likely source of raw chicken contaminated with a strain of bacteria known as salmonella Heidelberg. Most of the chicken has been sold in California, Oregon and Washington, and most of the illnesses have occurred in California, USDA says.
But no recall has been announced and the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service "is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period," the news release says. Consumers can identify products that came from the three plants by looking for these packaging codes: P6137; P6137A and P7632.
In its own press release, Foster Farms says it is working with USDA inspectors and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address the outbreak. The company's food safety chief, Robert O'Connor, says the USDA inspection process has not been affected by the federal government shutdown.
However, CDC disease detectives who specialize in tracking multi-state food-borne outbreaks are not on the job and that could affect the investigation, Wired reports.
Common symptoms of salmonella food poisoning include diarrhea, cramps and fever that typically start 8 to 72 hours after eating food with high levels of the bacteria. Some people also get chills, nausea and vomiting, lasting up to seven days, USDA says. For people with weak immune systems, including infants and the elderly, the infection can be deadly.
The USDA and Foster Farms both say it's important for consumers to remember that cooking chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees will destroy any disease-causing bacteria. They advise consumers to use food thermometers to ensure thorough cooking.
An outbreak of the same strain of salmonella was linked to Foster Farms chicken in 2012 in Oregon and Washington. That outbreak sickened 134 people in 13 states, CDC reported in July.
In its statement, the company says it has "instituted a number of additional food safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that have already proven effective in controlling salmonella in its Pacific Northwest operations earlier this year."