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Foster Farms Still Plagued by Salmonella Problems as New Cases Reported

Image: Foster Farms Still Plagued by Salmonella Problems as New Cases Reported

By Clyde Hughes   |   Friday, 30 May 2014 02:43 PM

Salmonella problems continue to dog California's Foster Farms with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing this week that 50 new cases believed tied to the poultry producer have been reported.

The CDC reported that the new cases bring the total of persons infected with Salmonella Heidelberg since March 1, 2013, likely from Foster Farms chickens, to 574 from 27 states and Puerto Rico. While no deaths have occurred, 37 percent of those infected had to be hospitalized.

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Most of people becoming ill, 77 percent, continue to be in California, according to the CDC. The federal agency said that the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics and can be associated with increased risk of hospitalization of those infected.

"People are still getting sick but we're headed in the right direction," the CDC's Ian Williams told The Oregonian, pointing out that at the start of the outbreak 20 people per week were getting sick and now it's now fewer than six every few weeks.

Foster Farms said in a statement Tuesday that tests of processed chicken had a 10 percent rate of salmonella contamination compared with 25 percent before.

Williams said that while that statistic shows improvement, it's not good enough.

"You can't test your way to safety," Williams told the Oregonian. "It indicates if the process is in control or not."

Foster Farms is California's largest poultry producer with its main offices in Livingston, 25 miles southeast of Modesto.

In March, the CDC reported 51 cases of Salmonella Heidelberg infections linked to chickens reported from mid-January to late February, with most of the cases in California.

When the Department of Agriculture first pointed to problems at the farm last October, officials said they had taken corrective measures.

"(Foster Farms has) implemented a multifaceted Salmonella control program that has reduced the prevalence of Salmonella at the parts level to less than 10 percent" and the facilities are performing "far better than the industry average," the farm's website wrote in March.

"We are on the right track, and have made outstanding progress," Ron Foster, Foster Farms chief executive officer, said in a statement then. "Millions of consumers continue to enjoy Foster Farms poultry products each day, and we want to ensure that they have the safest, healthiest experience."

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