Hawaii illness linked to tainted chicken


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The state Department of Health reported Tuesday afternoon that it had linked a single case of salmonella poisoning reported in Hawaii to multiple other illnesses on the mainland that have been connected to a California-based chicken farm.

One of the largest suppliers of chicken to Hawaii Island and the rest of the state, Foster Farms advised Tuesday that its raw chicken products remain safe to eat when properly handled and cooked, and it reminded the public that the chicken had not been recalled when the USDA issued a public health alert Monday concerning levels of salmonella found in batches of the California company’s chicken.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service issued the warning after public concerns that a number of illnesses on the mainland had been caused by strains of the bacteria Salmonella Heidelberg associated with raw chicken products at three of Foster Farms’ facilities in California.

In a Monday release, the Food Safety and Inspection Service advised that it had as of yet been unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period, but added that raw products from the facilities in question could be identified by one of three establishment numbers included in a USDA inspection mark on their packaging.

Those establishment numbers were reported as:

• P6137,

• P6137A,

• or P7632.

The products were mainly distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington State, according to the release.

The health alert reported that an estimated 278 illnesses had been reported in 18 states, with most occurring in California.

“While the company, FSIS and CDC continue to investigate the issue, Foster Farms has instituted a number of additional food safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that have already proven effective in controlling Salmonella in its Pacific Northwest operations earlier this year,” Foster Farms stated in a press release. “No recall is in effect.”

It was not clear Tuesday how much of the affected chicken had been shipped to Hawaii.

Dr. Sarah Park, the health department’s state epidemiologist, said Tuesday that the Hawaii case in question involved a child visiting from Florida who contracted salmonella poisoning and was tested in July. The state is currently examining the case and looking for clues about where the bacteria may have originated.

So far, she said, the bacteria has simply been linked to the outbreak through DNA matching, which is not capable of proving a positive identification.

The fact that there has only been a single case identified in the state makes it difficult to find similarities and links to the larger national outbreak, she added.

“At this point, we’re looking at how our one case is associated, or whether there might have been more,” Park said.

A Waiakea Uka woman reported Tuesday that she had found frozen chicken in her freezer with one of the above establishment numbers that appeared to be prepared around the same time that some of the other cases of poisoning were reported.

“I looked up the info about the outbreak, which started back in May, and I looked at the numbers and I just happened to have a package of fresh chicken in the freezer dated Aug. 27, so I looked up the number, and one of the three numbers that was on the press release was on the chicken,” said Maggie Morris.

Morris said she called KTA Superstores, where she purchased the chicken, and managers there “were very helpful, and they said they would be glad to give me a refund. They were really nice,” she said.

Foster Farms and the California Poultry Federation said Tuesday that the chicken was safe to eat, as long as consumers followed careful preparation and cooking guidelines, including:

• Refrigerate raw chicken promptly. Never leave it on the countertop at room temperature.

• Packaged fresh chicken may be refrigerated in original wrappings in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

• Freeze uncooked chicken if it is not to be used within two days.

• Thaw chicken in the refrigerator — not on the countertop — or in cold water. For quick thawing of raw or cooked chicken use the microwave. Thawing time will vary.

• Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods.

• Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer.

• Always wash hands, countertops, cutting boards, knives and other utensils used in preparing raw chicken with soapy water before they come in contact with other raw or cooked foods.

• Keep hot foods hot.

• Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Despite assurances that the chicken remains safe to consume, Morris said she didn’t plan to eat hers.

“I’m not going to thaw that chicken out and serve it to my family. It’s not appealing to me,” she said. “It makes me want to be a vegan, like my brother.”

For more information, Foster Farms’ consumer affairs department can be contacted at 800-338-8051.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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