278 cases and counting. That's the number of people who have become sick in this latest salmonella outbreak. It's due to a strain called Heidelberg salmonella, which is especially punishing. More than 40 percent of the people who were sickened have been hospitalized. That's twice the normal rate.
Federal investigators say Foster Farms processing facilities in California are the likely source of the problem. Previously, specific batches of chicken had been identified as dangerous. But now, the FDA says sanitary conditions at the facility "could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health." They point to recent sampling at one facility where 25 percent of meat tested came back positive for salmonella.
Still, Foster Farms refuses to do its own recall. So, Wednesday, the country's largest grocery store chain, Kroger, decided on its own to pull some of the products. Kroger is the parent company of QFC and Fred Meyer. When KIRO 7 crews checked into several QFC stores Wednesday night, there were deeply discounted whole Foster Farms chickens, but no packages of butchered chicken breasts or thighs.
Andrew Astorga was heading into Seattle's Interbay QFC. He said he wasn’t too concerned because he assumes all chicken might be contaminated, so he makes sure it's cooked all the way through. But Randall Durant at Snohomish Health District cautions that is not enough. You should make sure chicken is cooked all the way to 165 degrees, which would kill the salmonella. But perhaps the greatest risk is not in the cooking, but in the preparation of the rest of your meal. "If you don't properly wash rinse and sanitize surfaces," he explained, "then you go make a salad on that counter, it can cause illness to the rest of your family, even before you have the chicken."
And if you get the Heidelberg strain, it can be very serious. This strain has proven much more resistant to antibiotics, and FDA investigators charged with tracking salmonella strains got caught flat-footed this time. Many were furloughed in the midst of the budget shutdown. Now, they have been called back because of the seriousness of this outbreak. But, they are behind.