In response to the recent salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms, Fresno State faculty members urge consumers to cook their meat thoroughly to prevent disease.
“I stress the importance of food safety,” said Michelle Ganci, professor of animal science and founder of the poultry program on campus. “What I tell consumers and what I teach in the classroom is that you need to cook your chicken to 165 degrees internal temperature. It’s just like your grandma would tell you: you can’t eat raw chicken.”
The outbreak was noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) when it issued a public health alert on Oct. 7.
“The outbreak is continuing,” USDA-FSIS said in the alert. “The investigations indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken and other brand chicken produced at Foster Farms plants are the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.”
Eating food contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. The usual symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of Oct. 11, 317 individuals have been infected with outbreak strains of salmonella in the U.S. Seventy-three percent of the individuals infected are from California.
On Oct. 10, USDA-FSIS announced that Foster Farms “submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes” to their slaughtering and processing centers.
“They’re going to move forward through this and continue to make a safe food product in the best way possible,” Ganci said. “When you have good companies like Foster Farms that have an 80-year history of good food safety, it kind of speaks for itself. That’s why the U.S. government didn’t shut down the plants.”
Ganci was a quality control manager at Foster Farms and helped bring the Foster Farms Poultry Education and Research Facility to Fresno State in March 2013.
She said that the Fresno State farm is neither linked to, nor affected by the outbreak.
“Fresno State has a collaborate partnership with Foster Farms, but it’s really a separate thing,” she said. “It has no affect to our birds at our facility.”
However, Ganci said that salmonella is inevitable when it comes to poultry.
“What we know as scientists and what we know as microbiologists is that those organisms, that bacteria, is naturally occurring in our environment,” Ganci said. “The notion that it’s not going to be there is not realistic. I don’t think people realize that.”
Dr. Mamta Rawat, a biology professor at Fresno State who researches medical microbiology, agreed with Ganci.
“Poultry does have salmonella,” Rawat said. “And it’s a common concern because it is a food-related illness.”
Rawat, however, said she is less concerned with the naturally occurring bacterium in raw meat than she is with treating consumers who are infected.
Though most infected individuals suffer mild symptoms, some who need treatment are becoming resistant to antibiotics.
“People who are getting this infection are getting the classic symptoms. Most people recover from it and don’t need antibiotics,” she said. “But there are people who are immunocompromised who need to go to the hospital. There are certain strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibodies so that’s a major concern. Often treatment is then delayed.”
Both Ganci and Rawat agreed that the best form of treatment is prevention.
“If you cook your chicken to 165 degrees, you eradicate the bacteria,” Ganci said.
Rawat added to beware of cross-contamination.
“Every time you cook meat, and you’re using a cutting board, you need to make sure you’re not cross-contaminating,” Rawat said. “Don’t use the same cutting board for raw meat as you do for vegetables.”
The CDC website also urges consumers to follow the food safety tips at http://www.foodsafety.gov/ to prevent salmonella infection.