Another 50 illnesses from Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported in connection with chicken from Foster Farms. The outbreak may not be over yet, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sees the numbers trending downward — something they view with a “glass half-full” mentality. CDC’s latest update puts the case count, as of May 22, at 574 in 27 states and Puerto Rico. Most of the illnesses — 77 percent — have been reported in California. Dr. Ian Williams, CDC’s Chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch, said that the California Department of Health is “has done a fabulous job. The bulk of the illnesses are there, so they’re the ones that are doing the hard work of interviewing and collecting the information and making sure it gets disseminated.” Since the last CDC update on April 9, 2014, a total of 50 new ill persons have been reported from eight states: Arizona (1), California (42), Georgia (1), Montana (1), Nevada (1), Oregon (1), Texas (1), and Utah (2). Those sickened range in age from less than one year to 93 years, with a median age of 18 years. Among 478 persons with available information, 37 percent reported being hospitalized, and 13 percent of ill persons have developed blood infections. No deaths have been reported. The general pattern has been about eight new cases reported each week since the last update, and those reports appear to be slowing down, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, Deputy Director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “We’re still above the baseline, but maybe we’re headed slowly in the right direction,” he said. The baseline number of cases of infections expected in the absence of an outbreak is two to four a week this time of year. In the summer, that number goes up to about five. More than a year after the outbreak began — March 1, 2013 — people are still getting sick, and Tauxe said that many interviews with victims reveal that they had eaten newly purchased chicken instead of products that had been in the freezer for several months. This is indicative of an ongoing problem with Foster Farms products. Changes have been made at several plants, and Tauxe said the company is looking into on-farm interventions as well. “What we don’t know is just how long it takes for those to have effect,” he said. Pre-harvest measures in particular may take some time to have an effect on infection rates. A spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) told Food Safety News that the agency plans “to closely monitor the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak as well as the three Foster Farms facilities that are a likely source. Because our intensified sampling is showing low levels of Salmonella at the three facilities, FSIS is considering whether illnesses are being caused by other sources.” Infections have been linked back to Foster Farms products for a number of years, Williams said. Since the company put interventions in place at its Washington facility, which was linked to a 2012-2013 outbreak, “We have not seen that outbreak strain at all,” he said, suggesting that the changes can cut down the number of human illnesses. “The hopeful part is, as they work to put interventions into these facilities in California, we’ll see the same sort of thing happen,” Williams said. Tauxe also commended Foster Farms for what they’ve done already. “What we see is a company that appears to be making pretty serious efforts,” he said, adding that these are the sorts of changes that “the entire poultry industry should be considering.” While the health officials hope that the downward trend in the latest update holds, ultimately, “None of us really know how long it will take before we see an end to the outbreak,” Tauxe said.