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Safeway, Costco sold salmonella infected Foster Farms chicken for a whole year

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The latest news in a cloudy San Francisco this week involves your neighborhood grocery store. News just in from the AP and FDA has families tossing any frozen items of their favorite chicken brand.

Foster Farms Chicken has issued a recall due to an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella that has been making people sick for more than a year, company and federal food officials said Thursday night.

The U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture said it has found evidence directly linking Foster Farms boneless-skinless chicken breast to a case of Salmonella Heidelberg, an antibiotic-resistant strain of the disease that has sickened more than 500 people in the past 16 months and led to pressure from food safety advocates for federal action against the company.

As a result, Foster Farms issued a recall for 170 different chicken products that came from its Fresno facilities in March.

The USDA said its investigators first learned of the salmonella case on June 23, and the recall was issued as soon as the direct link was confirmed. The location of the case and identity of the person were not released.

Foster Farms was requested to conduct this recall because this product is known to be associated with a specific illness.

The recalled product includes fresh chicken products sold by retailers under Foster Farms or private label brand names, with varying “use or freeze by”dates ranging from March 16 through March 31, 2014, and frozen Sunland Chicken products with “best by” dates from March 7 through March 11, 2015. The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P6137,” P6137A” or “P7632” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The chicken products were produced from March 7 through March 13, 2014 to Costco, Foodmaxx, Kroger, Safeway and other retail stores and distribution centers in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Washington. FSIS and the company want the public to be aware that the products are most likely no longer available for purchase, but may be in consumers’ freezers.

FSIS was notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a Salmonella Heidelberg illness on June 23, 2014, associated with the consumption of a boneless skinless chicken breast product. Working in conjunction with CDC, FSIS determined that there is a link between boneless skinless chicken breast products from Foster Farms and this illness. Based on FSIS’ epidemiological and traceback investigations, one case-patient has been identified in California with an illness onset date of May 5, 2014.

The company emphasized that the recall was based on a single case and a single product but the broad recall is being issued in an abundance of caution.

"Our first concern is always the health and safety of the people who enjoy our products, and we stand committed to doing our part to enhance the safety of our nation's food supply," Foster Farms said in a statement.

The federal Centers for Disease Control says 574 people from 27 states and Puerto Rico have been sickened since the outbreak began in 2013, leading to increasing pressure from food safety advocates for a recall or even an outright shutdown of Foster Farms facilities.

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in class-action food-safety lawsuits, commended both Foster Farms and the USDA for "doing the right thing for food safety."

"Recalling product is both embarrassing and hard, but is the right thing to do for your customers," Marler said.

The company was linked to previous salmonella illnesses in 2004 and in 2012.

Recalls of poultry contaminated with salmonella are tricky because the law allows raw chicken to have a certain amount of salmonella — a rule that consumer advocates have long lobbied to change. Because salmonella is so prevalent in poultry and is killed if consumers cook it properly, the government has not declared it to be an "adulterant," or illegal, in meat, as is E. coli.

In a letter from USDA to Foster Farms last October, the department said inspectors had documented "fecal material on carcasses" along with "poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary nonfood contact surfaces and direct product contamination."

Foster Farms said in May that it had put new measures in place, including tighter screening of birds, improved safety on the farms where the birds are raised and better sanitation in its plants.

The most important thing about raw chicken is that you must wash anything it touches, including your hands, after handling it, and before touching any other food. Otherwise you can spread salmonella to your salad, bread, etc. and become ill.

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