As of February 28, 2014, a total of 481 persons infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 25 states and Puerto Rico, since March 1, 2013. 38% of ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported. Most ill persons (76%) have been reported from California.
The number of reported infections from all seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg returned to baseline levels in January and the outbreak appeared to be over, as noted in the previous update on January 16, 2014. However, the investigation continued.
Ongoing surveillance identified in February that infections from two of the previously rare outbreak strains have again exceeded the number of infections expected to be reported to PulseNet during this time of year.
Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.
The outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. Although these antibiotics are not typically used to treat Salmonella bloodstream infections or other severe Salmonella infections, antibiotic resistance can increase the risk of hospitalization in infected individuals.
Under the Poultry Products Inspection Act, 21 U.S. Code § 458:
(a) No person shall—
(2) sell, transport, offer for sale or transportation, or receive for transportation, in commerce,
(A) any poultry products which are capable of use as human food and are adulterated or misbranded at the time of such sale, transportation, offer for sale or transportation, or receipt for transportation;
Under 21 U.S. Code § 342:
A food shall be deemed to be adulterated—
(a) Poisonous, insanitary, etc., ingredients
(1) If it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance such food shall not be considered adulterated under this clause if the quantity of such substance in such food does not ordinarily render it injurious to health
(A) if it bears or contains any added poisonous or added deleterious substance … or
(3) if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance, or if it is otherwise unfit for food; or
(4) if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health;
Fact, despite the hundreds are sickened, the USDA’s FSIS still does not consider Salmonella an adulterant per the definition above. That is why Foster Farms can knowingly sell chicken tainted with Salmonella and FSIS does nothing about it.
It is clear that USDA’s FSIS has the ability to declare Salmonella an adulterant. It did it to E. coli O157:H7 in 1994 and to other shiga-toxin E. coli in 2011. However, absent leadership at USDA’s FSIS to do it, perhaps we need to consider U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s “Safe Meat and Poultry Act” that she introduced last Fall. Gillibrand’s bill seeks to:
- Create mandatory pathogen reduction performance standards and expand the authority of USDA to regulate new pathogens, which will make progress toward targeting and reducing dangerous pathogens in the meat and poultry supply.
- Improve consumer notification for recalls of contaminated products.
- Provide whistleblower protection for government and private workers in the food industry to report public-health issues and support a more resilient agriculture industry.
- Provide better enforcement penalties, including criminal penalties, for intentionally putting unsafe products in the marketplace, and escalating enforcement action for the few bad actors who have a repeated history of serious failures to ensure food safety.
- Safeguard our borders from unsafe or adulterated foreign meat and poultry products by ensuring regular international audits by the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
- Increase the emphasis on prevention throughout the entire food-safety system, including for pathogens, chemical residues and potential contamination.
Or, USDA’s FSIS could respond to the regulatory petition filed in 2011 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. However, that petition would only apply to ground meat and poultry found to contain antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella.
Or, we can continue to do nothing.