317 sick in Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak; just cook it still doesn’t cut it; skating, hockey, Thanksgiving turkey

Amy, Sorenne and I began eight weeks of skating lessons at the local arena Satuday (I suck after seven years of no ice, thank you Kansas), started cooking the Canadian Thanksgiving feast at 3 a.m Sunday, and have had hockey on in the background since 4 a.m.

I try to be super-extra careful when cooking a big bird because of the potential for cross-contamination, and the potential of sickening a bunch therm.turkey.oct.13of what-would-become former friends.

But in some cases, extra care is not enough.

As the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms hits 317 sick, Costco has ordered a recall of nearly 40,000 pounds of rotisserie chickens after one tested positive for Salmonella on Friday.

That’s a cooked chicken. To paraphrase Bill Marler, if Costco can’t cook the poop out of a bird, why are consumers expected to?

Still, company types, many government types and other types, insist all will be well if the chicken is just cooked properly.

This is a terrible message, and not scientifically accurate.

Chapman at least got a few correct points in when he told Live Science cross-contamination can happen at any point in the cooking and handling process, starting at the grocery store, don’t wash the bird, and use a damn thermometer.

(I gave one to an IT friend here for the Thanksgiving food orgy.)

After threatening Monday to close three Foster Farms processing plants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed on Thursday to allow the plants to continue operating with advanced, super-secret safety procedures.

Neither the company nor USDA will say what these procedures are. Doesn’t build confidence.

Which would be an additional reason the list of retailers recalling Fosters products is growing.

Lynne Terry of the Oregonian writes that Costco’s El Camino Real store in San Francisco, Calif., is pulling and products over Salmonella contamination. The recall includes nearly 8,800 Kirkland Signature Foster Farms rotisserie chickens and more than 310 units of Kirkland Farm rotisserie chicken soup, rotisserie chicken leg quarters and rotisserie chicken salad.

The products were sold to Costco customers at the El Camino Real store between Sept. 11 and Sept. 23, the notice said. The chickens were processed at three Foster Farms plants in central California.

Fred Meyer and QFC stores have withdrawn chicken from the same plants. They were sold under the brand names of Simple Truth Organic and Kroger Value. The voluntary withdrawal also includes deli chicken and rotisserie chickens.

Melinda Merrill, Fred Meyer spokeswoman, said the stores are still selling the Foster Farms labeled poultry that came from a plant that’s not been implicated in the outbreak.

This outbreak differs in that the variety of salmonella is especially virulent.

There are seven strains of salmonella Heidelberg involved in the outbreak. Several of them are antibiotic-resistant and “one of the strains that we’ve tested is resistant to seven antibiotics,” said Christopher Braden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention division of foodborne diseases.

Of the people infected, 42% have been hospitalized — an unusually high percentage, according to the CDC.

“That’s about twice what we would normally see for a salmonella outbreak,” Braden said. “We think that’s at least in part due to the fact that a number of these strains have resistance to one or more antibiotics.”

Thirteen percent of those sickened have salmonella septicemia, a serious, life-threatening, whole-body inflammation, Braden said. Normal for salmonella would be “just a few percent,” he said.

In a statement, Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster said “we have worked relentlessly to address these issues and will continue to do so as we work to regain consumer trust and confidence in the Foster Farms brand.”

Those comments do not bolster consumer confidence.

If you’ve got a good food safety system, brag about it. Because some companies are better.


Find the problem, fix the problem, then restart production; same salmonella again found in Cargill ground turkey

On July 29, 2011, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert due to concerns about illnesses caused by Salmonella Heidelberg that may be associated with use and consumption of ground turkey produced by a Cargill plant in Arkansas.

On August 3, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey that had been linked to the outbreak through microbiological testing. By Aug. 18, 2011, 111 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg were identified in 31 states. The outbreak had been apparently going on for months, and no one knew the source.

But that didn’t stop Cargill from restarting the Arkansas plant on Aug. 16, and establishing a blue-ribbon science advisory panel on Aug. 26. Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill’s Wichita-based turkey processing business said at the time, the company has implemented the most aggressive salmonella monitoring and testing program in the poultry industry.

Guess they found something.

A couple of hours ago, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation of Springdale, Ark. recalled approximately 185,000 pounds of ground turkey products that may be contaminated with a strain of Salmonella Heidelberg.

USDA-FSIS said, “The strain of SalmonellaHeidelberg in question is identical to that of an outbreak of Salmonellosis that resulted in an August 3, 2011 recall of ground turkey products. Although a sample tested positive for the outbreak related strain ofSalmonella, including the identical XbaI and BlnI PFGE patterns matching the August 3 outbreak strain, at this time, neither FSIS nor the plant is aware of any illnesses associated with product from the above dates. An FSIS incident investigation team collected samples at the establishment following the previous recall. Today’s recall occurred after a product sample collected on August 24 tested positive for the outbreak strain ofSalmonella Heidelberg. The firm is recalling product from August 30 based on pending positive match samples. The products subject to recall are derived from bone-in parts.”

The products subject to recall include:

Fresh Ground Turkey Chubs
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Fresh HEB Ground Turkey 85/15 with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/12/2011, 09/13/2011, 09/19/2011 and 09/20/2011
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Fresh Ground Turkey with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/19/2011, 09/20/2011 and 09/21/2011

Fresh Ground Turkey Trays
• 19.2 oz. (1.2 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/10/2011 and 09/12/2011
• 48.0 oz. (3 lb.) trays of Kroger Ground Turkey Fresh 85/15 with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/17/2011, 09/18/2011 and 09/19/2011
• 48.0 oz. (3 lbs.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey Family Pack with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/11/2011, 09/12/2011, 09/13/2011, 09/15/2011, 09/17/2011 and 09/18/2011
• 16 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey with a Use or Freeze by Date of 09/11/2011

Fresh Ground Turkey Patties
• 16.0 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White Ground Turkey Patties with a Use or Freeze by Date of 09/18/2011
16 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Kroger Ground Seasoned Turkey Patties Fresh 85/15 with a Use or Freeze by Date of 09/17/2011The products subject to recall today bear the establishment number “P-963” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were produced on August 23, 24, 30 and 31 of this year.

Did Cargill salmonella-in-ground turkey recall come fast enough?

The massive ground turkey recall that Cargill Inc. announced this week is raising questions about whether federal food safety regulators should have moved faster to limit a nationwide salmonella outbreak.

I told Mike Hughlett and David Shaffer of Minnesota Star Tribune that, "Part of the problem is the absence of clear guidelines about when to go public."

Doug Powell, a food safety expert at Kansas State University who felt that the recall process was slow with the ground turkey, said food regulators appeared to become more conservative after a big salmonella outbreak in 2008. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first linked it to tomatoes, only to find out later that jalapeno peppers were the most likely cause. The tomato industry cried foul after it got crushed financially.

The recall that Minnetonka-based Cargill announced late Wednesday covers 36 million pounds of ground turkey, one of the biggest U.S. meat recalls. It’s linked to a particularly virulent strain of salmonella that has infected 78 people in 26 states and led to one death.

The recall involves ground turkey produced as early as February, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture had indications going back to at least July 20 that the culprit might be a Cargill plant in Arkansas.

The timing of the recall highlights a dilemma for the nation’s food regulators over when to go public with recall information. Go too late, and public health could suffer. Go too early and make a mistake, and a corporation or industry’s reputation could unduly suffer.

In Sacramento County, Calif., where a woman older than 65 died in June from the latest outbreak, the county’s health officer brought up another factor bedeviling food regulators these days: budget cutting.

Dr. Glennah Trochet said her department now responds more slowly to outbreaks, sometimes delaying investigations a week or two. Public health workers often aren’t available to interview possible victims. She suspects other agencies face the same constraints. "If you want rapid response, you need to have the resources to do rapid response," Trochet said.

This is something I hear from public health types across the country; it’s almost amazing outbreaks get tracked down at all given the fiscal mess at the state and local levels.

The salmonella outbreak linked to Cargill ground turkey began in early March. Chris Braden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director of foodborne diseases, said on Thursday that it was a slowly building outbreak in the beginning.

After recognizing an "unusual clustering" of Salmonella Heidelberg cases, the CDC began investigating on May 23, Braden said. About the same time, routine surveillance by a federal food monitoring system found the same strain of Salmonella Heidelberg in ground turkey in stores.

The monitoring service found four positive samples, one each in April, May, June and July, Braden said. Those four samples were traced to Cargill’s Arkansas plant, he said, though he didn’t elaborate on when.

David Goldman, a public health administrator in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, told reporters that by July 20 or 21, the agency had traced back two cases from the salmonella outbreak to Cargill’s Arkansas plant. A third traceback to the same plant was confirmed last week.

Late Friday, the USDA put out a public warning about salmonella dangers in ground turkey, without naming the suspected source. Recalls are often initiated when food regulators tell a company they suspect it’s the source of an outbreak.