The Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken continues to grow. The outbreak started in June of 2013 and has now grown to 481 reports of Salmonella infections (salmonellosis). Attorney Fred Pritzker and his team of lawyers are representing people sickened in this outbreak, including a very young child who was hospitalized with serious complications.

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The outbreak involves 7 strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, each with its own genetic “fingerprint”.  The number of reported infections to the CDC from all 7 of these strains returned to baseline levels in January 2014, and the CDC determined that the outbreak was over. But in February 2014, there were an increased number of reported infections from two of the outbreak strains. The number of cases continues to grow because people froze the Foster Farms chicken for later use, not realizing it was recalled and contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.

“Contaminated chicken should simply not be sold,” said Fred Pritzker, a Salmonella lawyer who represents people nationwide who have been sickened by tainted food. “Consumers trust food manufacturers to sell safe food, and the burden of preventing illness should not be placed on unsuspecting consumers.”

To date, the CDC has confirmed a total of 481 individuals from 25 states and Puerto Rico infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg: Alaska (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (22), California (365), Colorado (9), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Florida (4), Hawaii (1), Idaho (5), Illinois (1), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Michigan (3), Missouri (5), North Carolina (1), Nevada (10), New Mexico (2), Oregon (10), Puerto Rico (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (10), Utah (4), Virginia (4), Washington (16), and Wisconsin (1).

California had the most Salmonella illnesses, with 76% of the outbreak victims coming from that state.

The last outbreak update was on January 16, 2014. Since them, 51 new ill persons have been reported from 5 states: Arizona (3), California (44), Hawaii (1), Tennessee (1), and Utah (2).

Investigation Update

Seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria have been identified as being linked to this outbreak. Ill persons infected with each of the seven strains were linked to consumption Foster Farms chicken. Four of these strains were previously rarely reported to the CDC.

Tests done on an unopened package of Foster Farms brand chicken wings sold in California found an outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. This strain is resistant to antibiotics and extremely dangerous to young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Tests done on a leftover sample of raw chicken from an ill person’s home in California found another outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. This strain was also antibiotic resistant. The person who ate it became ill on January 11, 2014. The outbreak strain isolated from this person was different from the strain isolated from the leftover chicken sample. Using shopper card records obtained with permission from the ill person, investigators determined that the chicken was a brand likely produced by Foster Farms. However, no packaging was available with the tested product to confirm this and the production date of this sample is unknown.

Tests done on Salmonella isolates from five chicken products produced by Foster Farms (four collected from ill people’s homes in California and Washington and one collected from a warehouse chain store located in California) found that four (80%) exhibited resistance to one or more antibiotics. One isolate (20%) was multidrug resistant. Isolates collected from chicken were resistant to combinations of the following antibiotics: gentamicin, kanamycin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline.

Outbreak Timeline

June 17, 2013: CDC data collection bank, PulseNet, reports a cluster of illnesses on the West Coast, primarily California, with a single rare PFGE pattern (genetic “fingerprint” obtained by breaking down the DNA of a Salmonella bacteria isolate) of Salmonella Heidelberg (PFGE Pattern #1) to the Outbreak Response Team at CDC. PulseNet identifies a non-human retail chicken isolate from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) retail meat surveillance program with PFGE Pattern #1.

June 28, 2013: USDA-FSIS(federal regulator of chicken and other meat) is notified by CDC of its multistate investigation of PFGE Pattern #1.

July 1, 2013: USDA-FSIS notifies CDC that the retail chicken isolate with PFGE Pattern #1 was Foster Farms brand chicken. PulseNet identifies a second cluster of illnesses with another rare PFGE pattern of Salmonella Heidelberg (PFGE Pattern #2).

July 8, 2013: PulseNet identifies a third cluster of illnesses with a common PFGE pattern of Salmonella Heidelberg (PFGE Pattern #3).

July 12, 2013: Washington State identifies a fourth cluster of a very rare PFGE pattern of Salmonella Heidelberg (PFGE Pattern #4). An additional PFGE pattern, PFGE Pattern #5, was also identified based on similar epidemiologic data.

July 18, 2013: Working with California, CDC combines PFGE Patterns #1-5 into a single investigation due to some of the patterns being similar and a high proportion of ill persons reporting that they had consumed Foster Farms brand chicken.

July 22, 2013: One month after first being aware of the outbreak, USDA-FSIS begins working with California public health officials to obtain shopper histories for product traceback.

July 29, 2013: CDC begins investigating two additional Salmonella Heidelberg PFGE patterns (PFGE Patterns #6 and 7) due to high proportion of ill persons reporting chicken consumption and similar demographics and geographic distribution.

July 30, 2013: Outbreak Response Team receives antimicrobial susceptibility testing results from the CDC for 4 human isolates matching PFGE Patterns #1 and #2. Resistance to several commonly used antibiotics was identified.

August 6, 2013: Intact leftover product from ill person’s home in Washington State tests positive for PFGE Pattern #4. Product traces back to Foster Farms.

August 9, 2013: Almost a month after knowing Foster Farms chicken was connected to the Salmonella illnesses, the USDA-FSIS and CDC have a conference call with Foster Farms to inform the firm about the outbreak and the link to Foster Farms brand chicken. Our investigation is looking at exactly when Foster Farms knew their chicken was contaminated or potentially contaminated with Salmonella and what action the company took to prevent illness.

September 4, 2013: Almost 2 months after finding evidence implicating Foster Farms, the USDA-FSIS finalizes its intensified sampling plan focusing on post-chilled product undergoing additional handling within the establishment implicated in illnesses. So about 3 months after reports of serious Salmonella food poisoning resulting in hospitalizations, a plan for investigating Foster Farms plants is finalized.

September 9 – 27, 2013: USDA-FSIS conducts onsite investigation at four Foster Farms processing plants, collecting environmental and food samples for intensified Salmonella testing.

September 24 – 25, 2013: Preliminary intensified Salmonella sampling results shared with CDC.

September 30, 2013: Cluster of Salmonella Heidelberg illnesses identified in South San Francisco linked to rotisserie chicken sold at a single Costco store location. Two samples of leftover rotisserie chicken collected from ill persons for testing.

October 7, 2013: Two months after finding the Foster Farms connection, USDA-FSIS issues “Notice of Intended Enforcement” to Foster Farms and releases a “Public Health Alert” urging consumers to handle chicken safely.

October 8, 2013: CDC posts first outbreak investigation web announcement.

October 10, 2013: Outbreak Response Team receives antimicrobial susceptibility testing results from the CDC for 5 additional human isolates matching PFGE Patterns #2 and #4. Resistance to several commonly used antibiotics was identified.

October 11, 2013: Laboratory results identified PFGE pattern #1 in both samples of leftover cooked rotisserie chicken sold at the single Costco store location.

October 12 and October 17, 2013: There is finally a recall of one Foster Farms chicken product (there have been no other recalls). The recall was of more than 23,000 units of cooked rotisserie chicken products sold at the single Costco store location due to potential cross-contamination after cooking. This recall was not issued by Foster Farms, which did not recall any of its chicken, even though several of the outbreak strains of Salmonella linked to Foster Farms chicken products were antibiotic resistant.