WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Furloughed federal workers were called back to handle a Salmonella outbreak linked to chicken that sickened more than 270, mostly in California, officials say.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a health alert warning Salmonella Heidelberg was linked to raw chicken produced by Foster Farms at three facilities in California, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak sickened 278 and had reached 17 states, with 78 percent in California, NPR reported.
The CDC furloughed 9,000 employees, making it unable to track multi-state disease outbreaks, but the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service's inspectors were allowed to stay on the job, NPR reported.
The CDC said about almost half of the people who've gotten sick were hospitalized and strains of Salmonella Heidelberg that have made people sick are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics, NPR said.
The CDC said illnesses from the Salmonella outbreak are ongoing, so some people might still be getting sickened by the chicken.
FSIS reminds consumers to always 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 using a thermometer," the FSIS said in the alert. "Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria."
The CDC has been monitoring this outbreak since July and the agency said it was likely the outbreak was connected to a prior cluster of illnesses in 2012, also linked to raw chicken produced by Foster Farms, NPR said.
The FSIS said consumers should determine if a package of chicken was produced in one of these facilities by looking for one of these codes on the packaging: P6137, P6137A and P7632.
In a statement on its website, Foster Farms said it was working in partnership with USDA FSIS and Atlanta-based CDC to reduce incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg.
"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," the company said. "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."
"Salmonella is naturally occurring in poultry and can be fully eradicated if raw product is properly handled and fully cooked," Robert O'Connor, the food safety chief and head veterinarian at Foster Farms, said in a statement.
"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."