It is not surprising to hear Salmonella illness related to chicken. It is just about common knowledge that there is a risk of Salmonella infection when chicken is improperly handled or cooked. What should not be common, though, is Salmonella outbreaks. Especially Salmonella outbreaks of drug-resistant strains. But yet again, here we are. A Salmonella outbreak often occurs when the food product is grossly contaminated, making it more likely for those handling or consuming it to become ill. Information about this latest outbreak of Salmonella Infantis are being uncovered as the investigation trucks on and the likelihood of a Salmonella chicken lawsuit or lawsuits.
In the meantime, here is what you need to know.
What You Need to Know About the Outbreak
As of October 17, 2018, 92 people across 29 states have been linked to this outbreak with Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts being the hardest hit. Currently there have been 11 reported cases in Pennsylvania. 10 in New York. 9 in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Ohio has 7 reported cases. Illinois has seen 5. North Carolina with, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri have 3. Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texan, Virginia, and Washington have 2 cases each. The states of Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Tennessee have 1 reported case.
These reported cases are only as accurate as the currently released data and many other cases may not be documented due to the infected individual being healthy enough to recover without medical treatment. Those cases, unfortunately, are often unreported. So far people have been hospitalized with Salmonella Infantis linked to this outbreak. No deaths have been reported so far.
Two big issues are at play here. No source has been narrowed, and multiple antibiotic resistance makes this illness more difficult to treat.
The CDC did, however, provide a link to a previous pet food investigation from earlier in the year. There may be a possible link between this outbreak (1 person was confirmed sick from exposure to raw pet food) and this earlier investigation. According to the FDA’s website, there was an investigation and a warning letter concerning raw pet foods made by Arrow Reliance Inc., including Darwin’s Natural Pet Products and ZooLogics Pet Food in early 2018. Among the laundry list of found contaminants, Salmonella was found in:
What You Need to Know About the Investigation
At this time, evidence is not linking the outbreak strain to a single source. Current epidemiologic and laboratory evidence (patient interviews and tested samples) indicate that many types of raw chicken products from several different sources are contaminated with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis.
According to patient interviews, different types of chicken products under different brands were consumed prior to becoming ill. The outbreak strain has been linked to food samples taken from raw chicken products, raw chicken pet food, and even live chickens.
The investigation has uncovered antibiotic resistance to several antibiotics. Laboratory testing indicated to resistance to antibiotics: ampicillin, ceftriaxone, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, fosfomycin, gentamicin, hygromycin, kanamycin, nalidixic acid, streptomycin, sulfamethoxazole, tetracylcin, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued advice to clinicians on which treatment to pursue, though the process to link a patient to the outbreak may present a lag in correct administration of treatment.
As a preventative measure, the CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food Safety Investigative Service (FSIS) – the governing body for food inspection in chicken production has shared investigation information throughout the chicken industry and asked about steps that each facility could take to reduce Salmonella contamination.
What You Need to Know About How the Outbreak is Investigated
When a patient becomes ill with what seems to be a potentially foodborne illness, their doctor will request a test to screen for the potential culprit. Depending on the results of that test, the data from the patient sample will be uploaded into PulseNet – a “national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the CDC.” A type of testing known as DNA fingerprinting is obtained on the sample to determine the specific genetic information of the strain infecting the patient. With this specific information, data can be compared to other patients and food samples to link cases to other patients and potential sources of infection. When samples are closely genetically related, they are most likely from a common source.
Patient interviews help narrow down the source to give investigators a place to start. In this outbreak, 89% of those interviewed reported preparing and/or eating chicken products purchased raw. Chicken products included ground chicken, chicken pieces, and whole chicken. They were asked what brands they purchased and where they got them from. In this outbreak, interviewed patients indicated many different brands from multiple stores. Patient interviews can uncover other clues to help investigators narrow down the source. “One person got sick after pets in their home ate raw ground chicken pet food.” Recently the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a recall on raw pet food. Another interviewed patient lives in the same home as a person who works in a facility that raises or processes chickens.
Armed with patient interview information, FSIS and FDA investigators looked for potential sources. Samples were obtained from slaughter and processing establishments as part of FSIS’s routine testing procedures under the current Salmonella performance standards. Samples from 58 facilities tested positive for genetically similar strains to the Salmonella Infantis strain identified in outbreak patient samples. “This result provides evidence that people in this outbreak got sick from handling or eating raw or undercooked chicken.”
The outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis has been identified in samples from raw chicken pet food, from raw chicken products from 58 slaughter and/or processing establishments, and from live chickens. Samples collected at slaughter and processing establishments were collected as part of FSIS’s routine testing under the Salmonella performance standards. Furthermore, WGS showed that the Salmonella from these samples is closely related genetically to the Salmonella from ill people. This result provides more evidence that people in this outbreak got sick from handling or eating raw or undercooked chicken.
What You Need to Know to Protect Your Family
All chicken products should be considered contaminated. Expect that germs are present and take precautions as needed to keep you family safe. You can do this by cleaning hands, cooking tools, and surfaces. Proper handwashing should be with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds – consider singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to be sure you wash long enough. You can use a diluted bleach solution – one tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water – to sanitize food contact surfaces. Fresh bleach solution should be prepared each time.
Separating raw and ready-to-eat food items is also essential to prevent the spread of germs. From the grocery cart, to the shopping bag, to the refrigerator, to the prep counter – keep raw foods away from other foods. Consider using separate cutting boards and plates for raw meats and potentially contaminated foods than ones used for produce and cooked foods. NEVER place cooked food on a plate that you had raw meat or potentially contaminated foods on.
Cooking to an appropriate internal temperature is another way to protect your family. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 ⁰F. Don’t estimate or go by “color.” Use a food thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to get an accurate temperature.
Store food responsibly. The refrigerator should be at least 40 ⁰F. All foods should be stored in the refrigerator within 2 hours to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. This drops to 1 hour if the temperature creeps above 90 ⁰F.
If you believe you have developed a Salmonella infection, we want you to know that a Salmonella Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.
If you or a loved one have become ill with Salmonella after eating or handling raw chicken products, you can call 833.330.3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.
By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)