(CNN) — A California poultry producer announced Monday that it is working with the federal health officials after an estimated 278 illnesses were reported in 18 states.
Raw chicken products from Foster Farms plants have been identified as the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg. Illnesses were linked to the facility through investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials. The outbreak is continuing and no recall has been issued.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been unable so far to identify the specific product or production period, but raw products from the potentially affected facilities bear one of the following numbers on the packaging: P6137, P6137A, P7632 and mainly distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while FSIS continues its investigation, but due to the government shutdown, current information may not be available on the agencies’ websites.
“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 said in a statement on its website.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165 degress Fahrenheit in order to ensure that harmful bacteria is killed off. The reading should be taken from the thickest part of the flesh, not touching a bone.
Washing poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing food is not necessary.
Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on weekdays. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
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.
Salmonella was the top cause of foodborne illness, according to the CDC’s 2012 report card on food poisoning. However, the overall incidence of Salmonella was unchanged from the 2006-08 data, the agency said. The report card is based on reports from 10 U.S. regions, representing about 15% of the country.