The U.S. Department of Agriculture is demanding Foster Farms, the California company implicated in the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that has sickened over 250 people, respond by Thursday with how the company will fix the problem.
In a letter obtained by CNN, a USDA official told the company since the beginning of the year “your establishment has had multiple regulatory non-compliances issued for insanitary conditions.”
The USDA is threatening to pull federal inspectors in three Foster Farms plants which would, in effect, suspend production.
Chicken from those plants have been implicated in 278 illnesses in 18 states.
The agency has the authority to take action under the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which entrusts the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to keep the public safe from poultry and meat products which are not wholesome, adulterated, or properly marked, labeled and packaged.
A notice posted on the Foster Farms website states that no recall is in effect and that the company’s products are safe to consume if properly handled and cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer.
“We are committed to ensuring the safety of our products, and our family-owned company has maintained an excellent food safety record during its near 80-year history,” said Foster Farms President Ron Foster in a statement.
Foster continued, “We deeply regret any foodborne illness that may be associated with any of our products. Food safety is at the very heart of our business.”
The Centers for Disease Control first alerted FSIS to a growing number of Salmonella cases on July 1, USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee told CNN. At the time, 18 people had been sickened in four states, and Foster Farms was a possible link between the patients. USDA investigators began “site sampling,” or testing Foster Farms facilities on September 9, and concluded their analysis of the majority of the samples collected on October 7.
“The partial government shutdown did not affect the investigation or communication with the public,” Lavallee said.
Fast facts on salmonella
The CDC reports that people in a normal state of health who ingest Salmonella-tainted food may experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which typically begin within 12 to 72 hours. This may be accompanied by vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains. These symptoms may last about four to seven days, and then go away without specific treatment. But left unchecked, Salmonella infection may spread to the bloodstream and beyond, and may cause death if the person is not treated promptly with antibiotics.
Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune symptoms should practice extreme caution, as salmonellosis may lead to severe illness or even death.
About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the CDC.