Yakima, Washington, Hit by Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak
The Yakima Health District has seen its share of cases in the recent Foster Farms raw chicken outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg, recording at least three cases so far.
These are just a few of the 56 cases state-wide in Washington that represent an alarming trend that started last June (2012). Fortunately, according to Washington State Health Department spokesman Tim Church, there have been no salmonella cases linked to Foster Farms in Washington in 2013, but laboratories are still watching for it and there is a significant delay between illness onset and reporting to the state or federal agencies involved in the investigation.
In Yakima, WA, a city of a quarter-million people, salmonella cases are reported each year. Including all strains, there were 26 cases reported of Salmonella Heidelberg in 2012, 18 in 2011, and 54 in 2010. Salmonella Heidelberg, however, is a relatively rare strain. Accordingly, when three identical cases presented themselves, Yakima health officials began to investigate, and soon discovered a stark upward trend in Salmonella Heidelberg cases in Washington State.
Washington State Investigates All Salmonella Cases
Washington State has a policy of investigating all reported salmonellosis cases. In this outbreak, the department has followed a two-pronged approach, said Marianne Patnode, the agency’s supervisor of communicable disease services. State health officials have conducted a trace-back investigation, currently coordinated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to track the salmonella to its origins. The agency has also worked with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to coordinate action with Foster Farms, which has production facilities in Washington, Oregon, California, and Alabama. The two facilities associated with this outbreak are those in Washington and California. At present, Foster Farms has not issued a recall.
According to Marianne Patnode, all patients are interviewed by the county health officials, including those in Yakima, who ask questions about contact with animals (a number of outbreaks have been associated with small pets and petting zoos), how they prepare food (raw chicken must be heated to 165 degrees F internal), restaurants where they dined (about half of all salmonella food poisonings are associated with restaurants), and recent travel (some pathogens, like Ciguatera, are more common overseas) in an effort to identify common sources. When individuals are found to have been poisoned, DNA samples of the bacteria are collected and tested at a state laboratory. As with many states, these results are then sent to federal health authorities.
When the results of these tests consistently pointed to Foster Farms, Washington officials (along with Oregon officials) decided to call the CDC and to get the USDA involved in the investigation.
The investigations at the state and local level are ongoing, and the results of those investigations will likely play a major role in food poisoning lawsuits brought by food poisoning lawyers like Ron Simon, a national food-poisoning lawyer who has prosecuted thousands of these claims against producers who allow tainted product, like Foster Farms salmonella tainted chicken, to end up on people’s dinner tables.