In what was the country’s largest foodborne illness outbreak of 2011, in terms of number of illnesses, chicken livers contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg sickened 190 people in six states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the outbreak is now over.
In its final investigation update Wednesday, the CDC said 109 of the outbreak cases were reported by New York. New Jersey reported 62 cases, Pennsylvania 10, Maryland 6, Ohio 2 and Minnesota 1.
The final outbreak tally included 11 more cases than had been reported in the CDC’s last update on Nov. 21.
At least 30 of those infected required hospitalization, but no one died. The outbreak victims ranged in age from younger than 1 to 97 years old. Median age was 14. Their illnesses were reported to PulseNet, the national foodborne illness surveillance system, from April 1 to Nov. 17, 2011.
Investigators determined that their illnesses were linked to kosher chicken livers sold under the MealMart brand by Schreiber Processing (doing business as Alle Processing) of Maspeth, NY. The product label stated “broiled” chicken livers, which may have led consumers, grocers and restaurant cooks to believe the only partially cooked livers were fully cooked and therefore safe to eat.
The outbreak source was traced though epidemiologic and lab evidence in New York. Among 39 people who were infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella, 28 (72 percent) reported eating chicken liver products in the week before their symptoms began. Lab testing by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets identified the same Salmonella Heidelberg strain in samples of the MealMart chicken livers and in chopped liver products made with the product.
The CDC cautioned that some contaminated chicken livers could still remain in freezers, and said they should not be eaten. It also emphasized that chicken liver or foods made with chicken liver should be fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F, and if retailers repackage partially cooked chicken livers for sale, the livers should clearly be labeled as not ready-to-eat.