USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert Monday after an estimated 278 illnesses in 18 states caused by Salmonella Heidelberg were linked to raw chicken produced at three Foster Farms facilities in California. FSIS said while the illnesses had not been been linked to a specific product or production period, raw chicken from the company’s California facilities bear one of the these establishment numbers inside a USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package: “P6137,” “P6137A,” and “P7632.” The products were mainly distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington state. Foster Farms released a statement on Monday noting that no recall of its chicken products is in effect and emphasizing that people should safely handle raw chicken products and make sure that raw chicken is thoroughly cooked before consumption. “While the company, FSIS and CDC continue to investigate the issue, Foster Farms has instituted a number of additional food safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that have already proven effective in controlling Salmonella in its Pacific Northwest operations earlier this year,” the company stated. FSIS noted that it is continuing to investigate the Salmonella Heidelberg infections, along with monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments in the affected states. However, the FSIS alert stated that, “The investigations indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken and other brand chicken produced at Foster Farms plants are the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections. Illnesses were linked to Foster Farms brand chicken through epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials.” Food Safety News reported this past July on another Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken in which at least 134 people in 13 states were affected between June 2012 and April 2013. Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy. The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.