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Foster Farms plants linked to salmonella outbreak to stay open - USDA

A Foster Farms sign is seen in this undated file photo.
October 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Three California Foster Farms chicken processing plants linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 300 people nationwide will stay open for now, according to the Agriculture Department.

"Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the food Americans feed their families. Foster Farms has submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations. FSIS inspectors will verify that these changes are being implemented in a continuous and ongoing basis. Additionally the agency will continue intensified sampling for at least the next 90 days," the USDA said in a statement.

The USDA had threatened to shut down the three poultry plants if Foster Farms didn't explain to the government how it will fix the problem by a Thursday deadline. If the deadline was not met, the USDA was going to withhold inspections, which would have effectively shut the plants down.

"We started this process more than two months ago and this officially validates our progress, but we are not stopping here," said Ron Foster, president and CEO of Foster Farms. "We are putting every resource and all of our energy toward food safety with the confidence that Foster Farms plants will be the most stringent in the industry."

The USDA has called the situation "a serious ongoing threat to public health." Most salmonella strains just result in stomach flu, but with this particular strain, 42 percent of people infected are being hospitalized.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning shoppers to avoid Foster Farms chicken with these specific codes on the packaging: P6137, P6137A and P7632. Some of these chickens remain on store shelves.

"We would like Foster Farms to actually issue a recall for these raw chicken products associated with outbreak plants. We'd also like the U.S. Department of Agriculture to request that Foster Farms make this recall," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan with Consumer Reports.

The CDC says the scare has sickened at least 278 people across the country. Symptoms include cramps, fever, and diarrhea.

Foster Farms insists its chicken is safe if cooked properly. The company also says it's putting new food safety measures in place.

Tips to help prevent salmonella sickness

Food safety experts say be sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling raw chicken.

Cook chicken to 165 degrees; that will kill the bacteria. The only way to know is to check with a thermometer.

Food safety specialist Jeff Nelken says never wash or rinse raw chicken.

"We recommend that you not wash raw chicken, because the likelihood of splashing salmonella all around your kitchen is much greater," said Nelken.

Another helpful tip is to use color-coded cutting boards and utensils to prevent cross contamination.

Remember to wipe down the area -- a little bleach, diluted with water, is all it takes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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