DeLauro: Company must 'immediately halt' raw chicken shipments

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, whose district includes part of Shelton, has called on Foster Farms to stop shipments of raw chicken until the cause of the current salmonella Heidelberg outbreak is found.

DeLauro said since July, the outbreak has caused more than 400 illnesses in 18 states, including Connecticut. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating the outbreak.

Foster Farms has been a poultry producer since being founded in 1939 in California. The private, family-owned company sells chicken and turkey products. Read a Foster Farms press release on the situation toward the end of this article.

‘Should immediately halt shipments’

“For the good of public health, Foster Farms should immediately halt shipments of raw chicken until we know exactly what product, or products, is causing this salmonella outbreak,” said DeLauro, a Democrat in her 12th term.

“The fact that this has been ongoing since July is an outrageous abdication of responsibility by everyone involved,” she said. “Nearly half of the people exposed to this strain of salmonella have been hospitalized. We cannot waste time when people’s health is at stake.”

DeLauro is a former chairman of the U.S. House subcommittee responsible for funding the federal Agriculture Department.

Attacks GOP budget policies

DeLauro used the health concern issue to attack Republican budget policies and the government shutdown.

“If only Republicans had been adequately funding our food safety response system, instead of, for example, cutting CDC funding by roughly $1 billion since 2010, we may have been better equipped to respond,” she said.. “The fact that CDC had to call back furloughed employees who were needed to help investigate the outbreak demonstrates the dangers the Republican shutdown is having on public health.”

DeLauro said while the House Republicans may now bring another bill to the floor to continue funding for the CDC rather than re-opening the government, “this piecemeal approach is simply inadequate to ensuring that the entire government is functioning properly to protect American consumers.

“Unfortunately,” she continued, “with 15 different federal agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcing food safety, we have long been taking a piecemeal approach to our responsibilities in that area of public health. It is long past time for a single food safety agency to deal with these threats.”

Shelton has two members of Congress

The city of Shelton is divided between the Third District, represented by DeLauro, and the Fourth District, represented by fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.

DeLauro lives in New Haven and was first elected to Congress in 1990.

Foster Farms press release on the situation

Below is an unedited copy of a Foster Farms press release on the salmonella Heidelberg situation:

Foster Farms working with FSIS and CDC to address salmonella associated with raw poultry products reportedly linked to three California facilities

No recall is in effect. Products are safe to consume if properly handled and fully cooked

LIVINGSTON, Calif. — Food safety is Foster Farms’ highest priority. Foster Farms is working in partnership with USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg on raw chicken products produced at three company facilities in Central California. Only raw chicken products are involved.

This activity is in response to an FSIS-issued alert regarding the increased incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg infection caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled chicken. While the company, FSIS and CDC continue to investigate the issue, Foster Farms has instituted a number of additional food safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that have already proven effective in controlling Salmonella in its Pacific Northwest operations earlier this year. No recall is in effect.

The FSIS alert states: “FSIS further reminds consumers of the critical importance of following package cooking instructions for frozen or fresh chicken products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry.... All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F as determined by a food thermometer. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.”

“We are committed to ensuring the safety of our products, and our family-owned company has maintained an excellent food safety record during its near 80-year history,” said Foster Farms President Ron Foster. “We deeply regret any foodborne illness that may be associated with any of our products. Food safety is at the very heart of our business. It is a continuous process of improvement. In addition to collaborating with FSIS and CDC, the company has retained national experts in epidemiology and food safety technology to assess current practices and identify opportunities for further improvement.”

“Salmonella is naturally occurring in poultry and can be fully eradicated if raw product is properly handled and fully cooked,” said Dr. Robert O’Connor, the company’s food safety chief and head veterinarian. “All poultry producers strive to reduce bacterial presence, including Salmonella. We take food safety very seriously. When the incidence of illnesses linked to Salmonella increased, we wanted to know why and we have worked quickly to identify and implement additional controls. It is also important to reassure the public that the FSIS process has not been affected by the recent government shutdown.”

Salmonella Heidelberg is the nation’s third most common strain of the Salmonella pathogen, which can result in foodborne illness if not destroyed by the heat of proper cooking.

Foster Farms reminds consumers to follow the Poultry ABCs — Always Be Careful. Raw poultry must be handled and cooked in accordance with the safe handling guidelines on all packages of chicken. These include: keeping the product refrigerated or frozen; thawing in refrigerator or microwave; keeping raw meat and poultry separate from other foods; washing working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils and hands after touching raw meat or poultry; keeping hot foods hot; and refrigerating leftovers immediately or discarding. All fresh poultry products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer.

Visit or call Foster Farms at 800-338-8051 to learn more.

(end of Foster Farms-issued press release)