Green Right Now Reports

As Congress has been gripped by the dramedy of the Ted Cruz and Koch Brothers-inspired government shutdown/debt ceiling frenzy, people in California and a few other states have been quietly falling ill with Chickens at Foster Farmssalmonella.

Inspectors have traced the food poisonings to chickens raised in Central California plants run by Foster Farms, which has apologized for the outbreak, and issued a statement that it cares about safety. (To protect yourself from salmonella, see below.)

The infected chicken has not been recalled across the board. Costco, though, has recalled Foster Farms’ chickens that are roasted at its stores. Food inspectors first traced the outbreak to a South San Francisco Costco, where a cooked Foster Farms’ chicken tested positive for salmonella.

Like most livestock these days, the contaminated chickens were likely fed antibiotics to grow faster.

This routine use of antibiotics in livestock production reduces growth time, speeds up production and enhances the bottomline, but it also creates “super bugs” that develope a tolerance to the antibiotics and therefore cannot be killed by them. This renders doctors helpless in the face of strains of microorganisms that defeat antibiotic treatment.

In this recent outbreak, the chickens were found to carry a potent drug-resistant strain of “salmonella Heidelberg,” the Centers for Disease Control announced on Oct. 7.

More than 40 percent of the 317 reported affected people have had to be hospitalized with the illness, because of antibiotic resistance. That’s about double the rate of a typical past salmonella outbreaks, in which about 20 percent of those who fall ill suffer from recoveries complicated by antibiotic resistance, according to a report in SF Gate.

So far no one has died as a result of the outbreak. But the salmonella infections have spread to 20 states, with most victims residing in California.

Children and older people are most at risk of contracting salmonella, which is characterized by diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping and lasts 4 – 7 days. About 42,000 suffer from a salmonella infection every year in the U.S. Though some of those illnesses are mild, 400 people die of salmonella poisoning annually, according to the CDC.

Congress could help solve this problem of rising human illness caused by antibiotic resistance by passing a bill that’s already been introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). Slaughter’s bill would phase out routine antibiotic use in the livestock industry.

“We are standing on the brink of a public health catastrophe,” said Rep. Slaughter earlier this year.

“The threat of antibiotic-resistant disease is real, it is growing and those most at risk are our seniors and children. We can help stop this threat by drastically reducing the overuse of antibiotics in our food supply, and Congress should act swiftly to do so today.”

Antibiotic Use in US

Chart shows that most antibiotics used in the US are for livestock. (Source: U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter’s office.)

In March, Slaughter re-introduced H.R. 1150 “The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2013” (PAMTA), which is aims to end the routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals to reduce the threat to human health of superbugs.

The CDC recently released a report on the devastating health effects of antibiotic resistance, finding that it claims the lives of 23,000 Americans every year. The agency made clear in announcing it’s study that livestock production is a key, if not the major, contributor to the problem.

Here is the CDC’s advice to consumers:

While it is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have Salmonella bacteria, it is uncommon to have multidrug-resistant Salmonella bacteria. CDC and USDA-FSIS recommend consumers and retailers follow these food safety tips to prevent Salmonella infection from raw poultry produced by Foster Farms or any other brand:

  • Clean
    • Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat, poultry or seafood.
    • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to prepare the next item.
    • Food contact surfaces may be sanitized with a freshly made solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
  • Separate
    • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
    • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
    • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Cook
    • Cook poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.
    • Retailers should hold cooked poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F or higher as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Chill
    • Chill food promptly and properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90°F).