Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

IAFP 2016 — Raw labels and better cooking instructions are not enough

ST. LOUIS — Manufacturers of raw, frozen, breaded and pre-browned stuffed chicken products should expect a visit this summer by inspectors from the field operations office of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

chickenkiev_406x250According to FSIS scientist Jennifer Sinatra, the visits are part of the agency’s continuing regulatory activities, with inspectors looking at processes used to produce the sometimes troublesome stuffed poultry products. Sinatra told attendees of the annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection that the visits could lead to FSIS issuing new standards.

Sinatra and Carlota Medus from the Minnesota Department of Health led an IAFP seminar on the investigation of and regulatory response to outbreaks involving raw, frozen, stuffed chicken products often marketed as “chicken cordon blue” or “chicken Kiev.”

A string of outbreaks going back several years has already brought regulatory action to these products. Previously, they were not labeled as “raw” and included microwave heating instructions. Since they come “pre-browned,” many consumers simply heated them in a microwave, not achieving the cooking temperature of 165 F, which is required to kill Salmonella.

Uncooked stuffed chicken products can no long include microwave instructions on the label, and must disclose that the product is sold “raw.” However, these steps have not ended the outbreaks.

A Salmonella Enteritis illnesses cluster was identified by the Minnesota Department of Health in June of 2015. Work by Minnesota’s Health and Agriculture departments made the link to frozen, raw, breaded and pre-browned stuffed chicken products. A second strain of Salmonella Enteritis, also linked to the products, was identified.

In the last couple of years, Minnesota has employed whole genome sequencing (WGS) because of its effectiveness for investigating small outbreaks. In addition, Medus runs the state’s “Team Diarrhea,” a cadre of University of Minnesota public health students who provide human resources to conduct mass interviews on short notice.

On July 1, 2015, FSIS issued a public health alert about raw stuffed products because the establishment involved was unwilling to issue a recall. Two weeks, later however, Aspen Foods, a division of the Chicago-based Koch Poultry Company recalled 1.9 million pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products because of Salmonella Enteritidis.

The recalled products carried about 20 brand names, and were produced between April 15 and July 10, 2015. Minnesota informed FSIS of the illnesses on June 23, 2015. Unlike some of the early outbreaks involving these kinds products, Medus said her team’s interviews turned up people who were sure they had followed proper cooking instructions.

That finding by the state investigation has Sinatra thinking the raw, stuffed chicken products might be vulnerable to cross contamination. Some in the IAFP audience pointed to how crumbs from the breaded products get everywhere.

FSIS currently tells consumers to treat the raw stuffed products like any raw chicken product. Hands and any surfaces, including surfaces that may have the breading dislodged from the product, should be cleaned after contact wit the product. Raw poultry should be kept away from other food that will be not cooked. And consumers should use separate cooking boards for raw chicken, fresh produce and cooked foods.

© Food Safety News