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Canadian Salmonella outbreak traced to frozen, raw chicken

More than a dozen people across four Canadian provinces are confirmed with Salmonella infections traced to breaded chicken products, but federal officials have not irevealed what specific products or brands are implicated.

Of the 13 victims identified as of Thursday, four of them had symptoms so severe that they had to be hospitalized. Their illness onset dates range from June 18 through Aug. 13. Their ages range from less than 1 to 82 years old.

Additional victims are likely to be identified because it can take several weeks from the time a person becomes ill to when their illness is reported and testing confirms a link to the outbreak, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which posted its initial outbreak alert Thursday.

The health agency did not identify the implicated food by brand or manufacturer. It described the suspected source of the Salmonella Enteritidis as “frozen raw breaded chicken products.”

“Salmonella is commonly found in raw chicken and frozen raw breaded chicken products,” according to the outbreak alert. “While frozen raw breaded chicken products may appear to be pre-cooked or browned, they contain raw chicken and should be handled and prepared no differently from other raw poultry products.

“Frozen raw breaded chicken products must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) to ensure they are safe to eat.”

Second outbreak in Canada this year traced raw, frozen, breaded chicken
Although Thursday’s public health alert states there has not be a recall in relation to the ongoing outbreak, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency posted a recall July 12 for President’s Choice brand “Pub Recipe Chicken Nuggets” from Loblaw Companies Ltd. because of possible Salmonella contamination. The recall notice reported there had been illnesses associated with the product. But those 13 victims became ill from April through June.

“This recall was triggered by findings by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) during its investigation into a foodborne illness outbreak. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products,” according to the July 12 recall notice.

The public Health Agency of Canada posted a final outbreak report Aug. 25 on the outbreak traced to the President’s Choice brand Pub Recipe Chicken Nuggets. The product has a best-before date of March 15, 2018. A sample of the product collected from a retailer tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis and had the same genetic fingerprint as the cases of human illness reported in the outbreak earlier this year.

Advice to consumers
Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are more fragile, according to the Canadian health agency.

Most people who become ill from a Salmonella infection will recover fully after a few days. It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and not get sick or show any symptoms, but still be able to spread the infection to others.

Anyone who has eaten any raw, frozen, breaded chicken products and developed symptoms of  Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the bacteria.

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, called salmonellosis, typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure to Salmonella bacteria, but in some people it takes two weeks for symptoms to develop. Symptoms include fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually last for four to seven days.

Preparation precautions
The public health agency recommends the following precautions when handling and preparing raw or partially cooked frozen breaded chicken products:

  • Do not eat raw or undercooked frozen breaded chicken products. Cook all frozen breaded products to an internal temperature of at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) to ensure they are safe to eat.
  • Microwave cooking of frozen raw breaded poultry products including chicken nuggets, strips or burgers is not recommended due to uneven heating.
  • Always follow package cooking instructions, including products labelled Uncooked, Cook and Serve, Ready to Cook, and Oven Ready.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling frozen raw breaded chicken products.
  • Use a separate plate, cutting board and utensils when handling frozen raw breaded chicken products to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
  • Use a digital food thermometer to verify that frozen raw breaded chicken products have reached at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F). Insert the digital food thermometer through the side of the product, all the way to the middle. Oven-safe meat thermometers that are designed for testing whole poultry and roasts during cooking are not suitable for testing nuggets, strips or burgers.

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