Consumers can reduce risk of salmonella infection
More than 300 cases of foodborne illness have been linked to chicken coming from Foster Farms, a California-based poultry processor, but a Kansas State University scientist said there are ways consumers can reduce the chances of becoming ill without giving up chicken.
It’s fairly typical for raw poultry to have some salmonella, as well as other organisms, said Londa Nwadike, who is a consumer food safety specialist with K-State Research and Extension. For that reason, it’s important to properly handle and cook all raw poultry before consuming, and to prevent contamination from spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces.
She referred to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation into an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg, which has sickened people in 20 states, including five in Missouri. Most of the cases have been in California. No cases linked to this outbreak have been reported in Kansas so far.
“One of the concerning aspects of this outbreak is the higher hospitalization rate—42 percent of ill persons—which is double the normal rate,” said Nwadike, who is based in the Kansas City area. “This may be related to the fact that the outbreak strains of salmonella are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics.”
No deaths have been reported to date in this outbreak, she said, but added that salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.
The outbreak is not related to the current government shutdown, said the food safety specialist, who in addition to serving Kansas residents, supports Missouri residents as a University of Missouri Extension specialist. The investigation into this outbreak began months ago and despite the shutdown, U.S. Department of Agriculture (and state) meat inspectors are still working.
“It’s important for consumers to know that all meat and poultry available in grocery stores, restaurants, and in food service has passed inspection,” she said. “The CDC, which coordinates multi-state foodborne disease investigations, did furlough 68 percent of its workers in the government shutdown. However, they called back 10 employees on Oct. 8 to help with foodborne illness investigations.”
Nwadike provided tips that consumers should be aware of regarding this outbreak specifically and reducing risk in general.
Consumers can check to see if any chicken they have purchased is from one of the three facilities linked to the outbreak by looking on the package for the establishment numbers “P6137,” “P6137A,” and “P7632,” typically found inside a U.S. Department of Agriculture mark of inspection.
Cook poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F, checked with a food thermometer. This will destroy salmonella, even antibiotic-resistant strains.
Separate raw meat and poultry from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
Use one cutting board for raw meat and poultry and a separate one for fresh produce and ready-to-eat foods.
Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat or poultry.
Wash with hot, soapy water any utensils, cutting boards, dishes and surfaces that might have touched raw meat or poultry to avoid cross contamination.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat, poultry or seafood.
Do not wash raw poultry before preparing it. Washing it splashes bacteria from the surface of the poultry onto you, your kitchen counter, and food or utensils that might be near the sink. More information is available at www.drexel.edu/dontwashyourchicken.
Refrigerate (at or below 40 degrees F) or freeze raw poultry, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours (or one hour if air temperatures are above 90 degrees F.
More information about food safety is available at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout Kansas and online at www.ksre.ksu.edu/foodsafety.