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Who’s to blame for the chicken salad Salmonella outbreak?

Blame keeps shifting over the Salmonella-tainted chicken salad outbreak, which is centered mostly over the upper midwest. The confirmed case count associated with the chicken salad remains at 65, with 55 of the cases in Iowa.

Although the case count hasn’t increased since the most recent report from the CDC on Feb. 22, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

States could be reporting to the public on a daily basis how many more cases have been confirmed in their jurisdictions. However, that is not happening.

Consequently, the public has to wait for updated numbers on the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency says it takes a minimum of two to four weeks for confirmed cases to make it from states to the CDC.

In the meantime, Fareway Stores Inc., a 120-store grocery retailer based in Boone, IA, says it isn’t to blame because it acted before USDA to stop the problem. And Triple T. Specialty Meats Inc. says no tainted chicken salad was found in its Ackley, IA, facility, so the contamination must have occurred during shipping.

“By the time the advisory (the recall) was issued, Fareway had already voluntarily pulled the product,” the grocery chain says in a statement posted on its website. “This product has not been sold at any Fareway location since Feb. 9, and will not be sold again at any Fareway until we are certain the problem has unquestionably been resolved.”

Those excuses are not stopping consumers who were made ill by the chicken salad from filing lawsuits in Iowa courts. Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Illinois are bearing the brunt.

The number of cases is expected to increase in CDC’s next update.

The supplier, Triple T, shipped the chicken salad to Fareway stores in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. Iowa kicked off the Salmonella Typhimurium investigation, notifying USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) about the problem on Feb. 9.

Triple T recalled all chicken salad it produced between Jan. 2 and Feb. 7 on Feb. 21. Fareway stores sold the deli product in containers of various weights from Jan. 4 to Feb. 9.

Iowa’s lab identified the Salmonella Typhimurium in tests of two samples. The CDC has reported that both epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicates that the chicken salad produced by Triple T and sold by Fareway stores is “the likely source of this multistate outbreak.”

The outbreak has not yet resulted in any deaths. However, 28 of the first 65 confirmed victims required hospitalization.

CDC also warned consumers who might have consumed a portion of the chicken salad and not gotten sick to discard of the rest. In such instances, the discarded food should be put in a sealed bag so children, pets, and others cannot eat it.

People should also wash and sanitize countertops and refrigerator drawers and shelves that might have come in contact with the contaminated chicken salad.

And, if in doubt about the purchase date any chicken salad was, it still should not be consumed, but thrown away.

State and federal health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of the outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories that coordinate with CDC.

DNA fingerprinting is performed on Salmonella bacteria that are isolated from ill people by using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). PulseNet’s national database of these DNA fingerprints is used to identify possible outbreaks, and WGS provides more detail on the prints.

The PulseNet analysis identified the 65 confirmed cases five states. It also found the illness onset dates ranged from Jan. 8, 2018 to Feb. 10, 2018. People ill who were ill with Salmonella ranged in age from 11 to 89 years old with a median age of 57. Forty-two percent were female.

The “epidemic curve” shows that Salmonella illnesses that occurred after Feb. 5 were likely not yet included in the outbreak’s confirmed case count.

WGS analysis did not identify predicted antibiotic resistance in 19 isolates collected from 20 ill people. One strain contained a gene for resistance to tetracycline, an antibiotic not commonly used to treat Salmonella infections. Testing of outbreak isolates used standards methods.

After the first illnesses were detected, state and federal investigators found during interviews that 78 percent of the victims recalled eating chicken salad from Fareway stores. Triple T Specialty Meats was the supplier.

The Triple T recall was for 20,600 pounds of chicken salad packed for the Fareway Wholesale Company.

Fareway Stores Inc., with more than 120 stores in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota, currently employs about 5,000 people. Triple T Specialty Meats is a private label manufacturer.

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