Three California-based Foster Farms chicken processing facilities linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 278 people in 17 states will remain open after company officials said they would make changes to their operations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.
Earlier this week, the USDA had threatened the facilities with closure if the company didn't come up with a plan for making substantive improvements.
In a letter to the company, the USDA warned that sanitary conditions at the facility "could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health."
The USDA had posted a consumer alert about the outbreak last week. The illnesses, predominantly in California, have been caused by salmonella Heidelberg and have caused twice the normal rate of hospitalization among victims.
As USA Today reported, the outbreak involves multiple antibiotic-resistant strains and 42 percent of those sickened have been hospitalized, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday.
Most of the chicken was sold on the West Coast.
Although Foster Farms has not recalled chicken from the three implicated plants, grocery giant Kroger Co. has, according to USA Today. The company has removed Foster Farms product from those plants, spokesman Keith Dailey told the newspaper. In addition, Kroger has pulled the chicken from Food 4 Less stores on the West Coast and Smith's in southern Nevada and New Mexico, Dailey said.
Consumers should look for one of three establishment numbers inside a USDA mark of inspection on the package: P6137, P6137A, P7632.
This is the second time this year Foster Farms has been linked to a national outbreak of salmonella. The company's raw chicken sickened 134 people in 13 states, including 33 who were hospitalized, before an earlier outbreak ended in July, according to the CDC.
Salmonella typically causes diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, fever and vomiting within eight to 72 hours of eating contaminated food. These symptoms can last up to a week and are particularly dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, babies and the elderly.
Thoroughly washing your hands, utensils and preparation area after handling raw chicken can reduce your risk of spreading the bacteria, and proper cooking - to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit - can also kill the pathogens.
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