Just how big the Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken & Rice frozen meal recall and the associated outbreak of Salmonella Chester are is now coming into focus.

First, a week after the June 17 recall was initiated by ConAgra, which owns the Marie Callender’s brand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a breath-taking list of retailers involved.  It includes 50 national, regional, and state-wide chains.

Those stores and others specifically named in Iowa and Nebraska were on the receiving end for shipments of 800,000 packages of the entrees that ConAgra has recalled.

Second, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta updated its report on the ongoing Salmonella Chester outbreak that is associated with the Marie Callender’s recall.

CDC added three states–Alaska, Texas, and Washington state–to the now 18-state outbreak that has resulted in infections for 37 people.  That was an increase of seven since CDC’s first report on June 18.

Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture Laboratory found the outbreak strain of Salmonella Chester in an unopened package of the recalled Cheesy Chicken & Rice single serve frozen entrees found in the refrigerator of one of the victims.

CDC, FSIS, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state health officials are now all involved in the investigation.  “Investigators are using DNA analysis of Salmonella bacteria obtained through diagnostic testing to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak,” CDC’s latest update says.

So far, those infected range in age from under one year to 88 years old. The median age of the victims is 36, and 55 percent are female.  No deaths have yet been reported but at least seven case-patients are known to have required hospital care.

The onset of infections is known to have occurred between April 5 and June 3, 2010.  Because of the delay in reporting, it is possible infections have occurred since June 3.  CDC says its is usually two to three weeks between the time someone becomes ill and when the illness is reported.

Both CDC and ConAgra have used the outbreak to again warn consumers that Salmonella can be present in frozen entrees, which should be cooked thoroughly for whatever time is required by the wattage on one’s microwave.

Bill Marler, the nationally known food safety lawyer, suggested on his personal blog that it would be better to put a “Skull and Cross Bones” warning on the label to tell consumers that frozen entrees “may contain harmful fecal bacteria (not limited to E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Salmonella).”

Marler has already filed two lawsuits against ConAgra on behalf of Oregon victims of the outbreak.  

Major grocery retailers on the end of ConAgra’s distribution chain for the Cheesy Chicken and Rice entrees include: A&P, Albertsons, Brookshire, Chief Supermarkets, Food Lion, Fred Meyer, Frys, Giant, Hannaford, Harris Teeter, HEB, Hy-Vee, Jewel, Jungle Jim’s, King Soopers, Kroger, Marsh Supermarkets, Meijer, Mid Mountain Foods, Piggly Wiggly, Pitco Foods, Price Chooper, Publix, Ralphs, Redners Warehouse Market, Roundy’s Safeway, Schnuck’s Scolari’s Food and Drug, Shaw’s, Smart and Final, Smith’s Stater Bros Market, Stop and Shop, Supervalu, Target, United Supermarkets, Wal-Mart, Wegmans, Winco, and Winn-Dixie.

Lists with specific stores that sold the recalled Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice entrees in Iowa and Nebraska are available in the PDF file.


Prior Food Safety News coverage of the Salmonella outbreak:

2nd Oregon Salmonella Victim to Sue ConAgra, Jun 25, 2010

Man to Sue ConAgra over Salmonella Infection, Jun 21, 2010

New Salmonella Outbreak Linked to ConAgra, Jun 18, 2010

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