Chicken is the number one consumed meat in America. Foster Farms brand chicken has been in the media a lot over the past year because they have been linked to the salmonella heidelberg outbreak that has affected thousands. Currently there are 574 cases that have been reported, but because food poisoning symptoms can be hard to diagnose and are often not treated in a hospital, this outbreak has been estimated to have affected over 15,000.

According to, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year; an estimated 48 million people. While most people recover without any lasting side effects, there are cases where long term effects can be very serious and even fatal.

What is Salmonella Heidelberg?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause illness such as typhoid fever and food poisoning. Salmonella Heidelberg is a complex type of Salmonella as there are seven different strains of Heidelberg and some are resistant to antibiotics. This means that the infection can be harder to treat.

Symptoms of Salmonella Heidelberg include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal Pain

Salmonella can be found in many foods and drinks but is often found in poultry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows a certain amount of salmonella contamination. Their reasoning for this is that salmonella is so prevalent and can be perfectly safe if the meat is handled and cooked properly.

Why Hasn’t This Salmonella Outbreak Been Contained?

The debate revolving around the Meat Industry Standards continues as more outbreaks occur with drug resistant strains of foodborne pathogens. Many believe there is more that can be done by both the poultry producer and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a branch of the USDA, to prevent these outbreaks.

The FSIS is responsible for ensuring the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged. The Health Initiative from the Pew Charitable Trusts put together a report called “Weaknesses in FSIS’s Salmonella Regulation.” The report had a lists of issues with the governments efforts to control salmonella contamination. Some of the key points pulled from the report are:

Performance Standard tests are conducted once a year and the plants know well ahead of time

Pew recommends regular evaluation throughout the year. If they are random and unknown this would help make less room for negligence.

There is no standard for salmonella contamination for chicken parts

There are two processes that poultry goes through to be sold. The first process is to cleanse prepare and inspect the whole body of the chicken. By USDA standard the percent of salmonella allowance is 7.5%, the industry average is 3.5%. The second process is to convert the body into parts which are commonly bought more than the whole chicken. The USDA does not have an industry standard for this but the industry average is about 25%.

FSIS does not have the authority to shut down a plant based on results of salmonella-verification testing

Pew recommends legislative action so they can close the plant and/or give mandatory recall.

What is Foster Farms Doing About the Salmonella Outbreak?

Foster Farms issued an action plan after increased reports of salmonella linked to Foster Farms Chicken in the Fall of 2013. Foster Farms was not required to recall their chicken, but Costco’s El Camino real store in South San Francisco, CA did recall Foster Farms chicken products. On October 12, 2013 the FSIS announced that 9,043 units of foster farms chicken products may be contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg. Then on October 17, 2013 another 14,039 units were recalled by the same store.

In the action plan, Foster Farms notes their standards and goals that are well above the industry standard and industry average. Yet in January of 2014 the Foster Farms Plant in Livingston was shut down because of a cockroach infestation. Foster Farms is now looking to sue Orkin LLC for failing to fulfill a contract and control cockroaches at the plant.

It’s hard to believe that Foster Farms did not know about the cockroach issue. It is also unfortunate that this country’s meat industry standards are not well regulated and monitored enough to prevent negligence from these poultry plants.

How to Play Chicken and Win

While the great chicken debate continues, it is important to know how you can prevent illness from contaminated chicken. If you have already suffered from Salmonella Heidelberg due to consuming Foster Farms Chicken products, contact food poisoning lawyer, Ron Simon, as you may be entitled to compensation.

Preventing Salmonella Poisoning

1. Be well informed – List of Active Outbreaks from the CDC

2. Know how to Safely Handle and Cook Poultry – The CDC advice for consumers for preventing Salmonella Heidelberg