Outbreak of Salmonella from Foster Farms Chicken Sickens Nearly 300 and Hospitalizes 42 Percent
Shutdown Puts Americans at Risk as Government Struggles to Respond
An outbreak of Salmonella that has sickened nearly 300 people in 18 states is testing the federal government’s ability to respond, as key food safety personnel at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and key disease-surveillance scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not at their posts due to the government shutdown. The illnesses are linked to chicken from three Foster Farms facilities in California. Seven strains of Salmonella are responsible for the illnesses, including some that may be highly resistant to treatment by antibiotics, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The outbreak is sending 42 percent of victims to the hospital—a rate twice what is normally seen in Salmonella outbreaks.
“The number of people we know to be ill is just the tip of the iceberg,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “This outbreak shows that is a terrible time for government public health officials to be locked out of their offices and labs, and for government Web sites to go dark. The Salmonella strains are showing resistance to multiple antibiotics, and that means more people are going to the hospital and their infections will be harder for physicians to treat.”
In 2011, CSPI urged the USDA to declare antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in ground meat and poultry, including the antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg identified in this outbreak, as adulterants under federal law. Such a designation would give the agency the authority to keep food contaminated with those strains out of the food supply in the same way the agency can currently keep meat or poultry contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 out of the food supply. CSPI’s petition asked that USDA enact programs to conduct microbial testing to identify antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella before people begin falling ill.
Besides declaring the Heidelberg strain an adulterant, CSPI’s petition asked USDA to declare antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hadar, and Salmonella Typhimurium as adulterants when found in ground meat and poultry.
When the petition was submitted two years ago, outbreak data suggested that ground meat and poultry bore the highest risk of carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Now, CSPI says it is clear that USDA should be monitoring all meat and poultry parts for antibiotic-resistant strains.
"The Department of Agriculture should direct Foster Farms to recall all of the potentially contaminated chicken from the market,” DeWaal said. “Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is too hot to handle in consumers’ kitchens. This outbreak is further evidence that consumers need our government back at work, with food-safety agencies adequately funded.”