Salmonella outbreak in chicken reminds us the importance of inspectors, slower line speeds

Chicken poopWe need to make sure USDA government inspectors stay at poultry plants and ensure line speeds aren't too fast for workers to do their jobs! We have to stand up against unsafe working conditions for poultry workers. We have to make sure that chicken on our dinner plates aren't contaminated. According to a USA Today article, 278 people in 18 states have become ill due to salmonella, and the government shut down has made tracking the contamination very difficult.

A salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken from California involves several antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease and has put at least 42% of the victims in the hospital, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

"That's a high percentage," said CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds. "You would expect about 20% hospitalizations with salmonella Heidelberg."

There have been no deaths linked to the outbreak.

Thirteen percent of those sickened have salmonella septicemia, a serious, life-threatening whole-body inflammation, said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington.

As of Tuesday, 278 people in 18 states have been sickened in the salmonella Heidelberg outbreak. Interviews with some of the patients have linked it to chicken produced by Foster Farms at three California plants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said Monday.

The CDC has been hampered in tracing the outbreak because the government shutdown meant the agency had to shut down PulseNet, a national network of public health laboratories that looks for trends and matches reports to spot food-borne illness outbreaks. It's one of the agency's most important tools in detecting such problems.

"We were trying to do this without the automatic system, and it was nearly impossible," Reynolds said. Seven of the eight staffers who run the system were furloughed. "We were doing it by hand, and it just become untenable."

This recent contamination during the shutdown reminds us that the workers who clean poultry and the government inspectors who make sure no contaminated chickens make it to the grocery store are a vital service to the health of our communities. Join our online action team and make sure poultry workers are working in safe working conditions and USDA inspectors remain on the job!

Learn more about IWJ's Chicken Justice campaign!