Salmonella outbreak sparks recall of frozen dinners

Jun 18, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – An outbreak of 29 Salmonella serotype Chester cases in 14 states has prompted the recall of frozen chicken-and-rice dinners by ConAgra Foods, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced yesterday.

ConAgra announced a "precautionary" recall of all Marie Callender's brand Cheesy Chicken and Rice frozen meals now in commerce. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said eight case-patients recalled eating the product in April and May before they got sick. The last known illness was reported May 22.

The illnesses had not been definitively tied to the frozen dinners as of yesterday. But today the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) said it had found Salmonella Chester, a rare strain, in an intact package of the recalled product from the home of a case-patient. "This package was purchased at the same time as a similar package that was consumed just prior to the case's onset of illness," the MDA said in a news release.

The MDA said the outbreak involved 30 cases in 15 states, including 2 in Minnesota. Federal agencies had not released a list of the other affected states at this writing.

The FSIS said an investigation by several federal and state agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is ongoing.

The recalled product is in 13-ounce packages labeled "Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Rice White Meat Chicken and Broccoli over Rice Topped with Rich Cheddar Sauce," the FSIS said. The packages have the establishment number "P-45" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The products were distributed to retail stores nationwide. ConAgra advised consumers to discard the products or return them to the store for a refund.

A ConAgra spokeswoman said many but not necessarily all of the ingredients in the recalled dinners were precooked.

"Many of the meal components, including the chicken, are cooked by us during the manufacturing process. There may be some ingredients, such as vegetables, that are not cooked," spokeswoman Teresa Paulsen told CIDRAP News.

While advising consumers to discard the recalled products, the FSIS urged consumers to carefully follow cooking instruction for all frozen entrees. All ingredients should reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F, the agency said.

A number of illness outbreaks in the past have been linked to frozen entrees that were not precooked or were only browned during processing. For example, two outbreaks totaling 29 cases in Minnesota in 2006 were linked to frozen, pre-browned chicken entrees. Officials said consumers, probably thinking they were precooked, likely didn't cook them thoroughly.

In other developments, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced today that the number of salmonellosis cases linked to Subway restaurants in the state has risen to 90. Patients have reported eating at Subway outlets in 28 counties, the agency said. Yesterday's IDPH updated listed 86 cases in 26 counties. The outbreak strain, Salmonella Hvittingfoss, has not been found in any Subway food products.

See also:

Jun 17 FSIS statement on outbreak and recall

Jun 17 ConAgra Foods press release about recall

Jun 18 MDA press release

IDPH page with Salmonella outbreak update

Jul 21, 2006, CIDRAP News story on outbreak linked to frozen chicken entrees

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