According to an NBC report that aired Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatened to shut down three Foster Farms plants involved in the outbreak. The West coast-based poultry producer has plants in Oregon, Washington, California and Alabama, but the suspect plants are located in Fresno and Livingston.
Also this week, a national consumer watch-dog magazine reported that it had tested samples of chicken from one of those plants back in July and found traces of the same salmonella strain.
Health experts say this outbreak was caused by the especially serious and drug-resistant salmonella Heidelberg bacteria that has caused a higher-than-normal percentage of victims to be hospitalized. The USDA first issued a Public Health Alert for Foster Farms' products on Monday.
Now USDA officials have reportedly sent a letter to Foster Farms President Ron Foster detailing the findings and saying that the company had until Thursday to come up with a plan to correct the problem or the government would withhold inspections, effectively shutting down the plants.
Despite the outbreak, Foster Farms has announced no plans to recall any of its chicken products, nor did it recall any chickens during a similar outbreak earlier this year, which sickened more than 100 people between January and July of this year.
There is no legal requirement for companies to issue recalls in cases involving whole meat, but most businesses do it voluntarily.
Foster Farms has, instead, simply advised consumers to clean the product thoroughly, avoid cross-contamination and cook the chicken beyond 165 degrees, a temperature that will kill any salmonella bacteria.