Frozen breaded chicken entrees linked to multistate Salmonella outbreak

Oct 7, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently issued a public health alert about the Salmonella infection risk of eating improperly cooked chicken entrees after 32 people in 12 states got sick.

The link between the illnesses and raw, frozen, breaded, prebrowned and stuffed chicken entrees was found during an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), the USDA said in an Oct 3 public health advisory. The investigation revealed that the illnesses involved the same pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern.

Minnesota experience
The MDH found that 14 cases of salmonellosis in the state since July 2008 were linked to the same Salmonella strain, according to an Oct 3 statement from the MDH. Kirk Smith, head of the MDH's foodborne disease unit, told CIDRAP News that the outbreak strain is Salmonella enterica serotype 4, 12:i:-. The illnesses affected children and adults. Six of Minnesota's patients were hospitalized but have since recovered.

Smith said in the MDH statement that investigators found the outbreak strain in four packages of product from the homes of some of the sick patients and from grocery stores. The products linked to the outbreak are Milford Valley Farms Chicken Cordon Bleu and Chicken Kiev, and the MDH said they are available at many grocery store chains.

Federal guidelines do not require a recall because Salmonella is not considered an adulterant in raw poultry, the MDH said. According to the MDH, products associated with the Salmonella outbreak bear the establishment number "Est. P-2375" inside the USDA mark of inspection. The Chicken Cordon Bleu products have the following code dates printed on the side of the package: C8121, C126, and C8133. Implicated Chicken Kiev products have the code date C149 printed on the side of the package.

The MDH said the recent Salmonella outbreak is the sixth in Minnesota since 1998 to be linked to raw, frozen, breaded, prebrowned, stuffed chicken entrees.

Improper cooking
Heidi Kassenborg, dairy and food inspection director at the MDA, said in the MDH statement, "The problem arises when consumers don't realize that they are preparing a raw product," she said, adding that most of the sick patients probably assumed the products were precooked. The type of chicken products linked to the outbreak were previously labeled as microwavable, but the variability of microwave ovens can result in undercooking of the product.

Though the chicken products are no longer labeled as microwavable in Minnesota, public health officials fear consumers still microwave them out of habit. Smith urges consumers to observe food safety practices, even when using a conventional oven to cook the products. "You need to check the internal temperature of the product to make sure it is fully cooked," he said, which involved cooking all raw poultry products to an internal temperature of at least 165°F.

In its public health alert, the USDA reminded consumers to follow package cooking instructions for frozen, stuffed raw chicken products and to observe food safety guidelines when handling any raw meat or poultry.

Outbreak at Texas restaurant
In other developments, public health officials in Amarillo, Tex., said yesterday that a contaminated warm water bath used for keeping syrup bottles warm has been identified as the source of Salmonella outbreaks that shuttered an International House of Pancakes (IHOP) outlet three times in the past 3 months, according to local media reports.

Between Father's Day and early July about 90 Salmonella infections were reported, according to a Sep 18 report from KDFA, Amarillo's CBS television affiliate. After IHOP management closed the restaurant on Jul 23, public health authorities tested the store's 68 employees and found that 11 were positive for Salmonella, according to a Sep 19 report on Amarillo.com, the Web site of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Though employees received more training in hand washing and food safety, the restaurant closed again for the third time in mid September after the city's public and environmental health departments associated 7 of 10 case-patients who were infected with Salmonella group C with meals they ate at the IHOP restaurant.

J. Rush Pierce, Jr, MD, health authority with the Amarillo Bi-City County Health District, told KDFA yesterday that the water contaminated the outside of the syrup bottles, spreading Salmonella to workers and customers. Officials told the IHOP's store managers to stop using the warm water bath system and that the restaurant should remain closed until sanitization procedures are completed.

See also:

Oct 3 USDA public health alert
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_100308_01/index.asp

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