Update: This recall was updated July 12 to clarify and correct “Use or Freeze by” and “Best by” date ranges. After months of illnesses and public calls for Foster Farms chicken to be recalled for potentially causing multiple Salmonella outbreaks, the company announced on July 3 that it was voluntarily recalling an undetermined amount of chicken products produced on three specific dates in March 2014. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service requested Foster Farms conduct the recall because the product is known to be associated with a specific illness of Salmonella. The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P6137,” P6137A” and “P7632” inside the USDA mark of inspection and were produced from March 7 through March 13, 2014. The recalled product includes fresh and frozen chicken products sold by retailers under Foster Farms or private label brand names, with varying “use or freeze by”dates ranging from March 16 through March 31, 2014 and Aug. 29, 2015 through Sept. 2, 2015, and frozen Sunland Chicken products with “best by” dates from March 7 through March 11, 2015 and Aug. 29, 2015 through Sept. 2, 2015. Consumers will only be able to locate such dates on fresh product retail packaging. Despite the latest Foster Farms outbreak having been going on since March 2013, there had been no evidence until now that connected a human illness to a specific lot of chicken. Until now, Foster Farms had refused to recall any products, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials did not have any power to enforce a recall because they could not trace an illness back to one specific production lot. The recalled products were shipped to Costco, Foodmaxx, Kroger, Safeway and other retail stores and distribution centers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. While it is unlikely that much of the product remains in circulation at this point, some of it may still be frozen in freezers. Consumers are encouraged to check any frozen Foster Farms chicken for the recalled establishment number. The USDA has supplied a full list of recalled products here. “FSIS was notified on June 23rd of the illness and took immediate steps to collect the product for testing and announced the recall as soon as a direct link was confirmed,” said an FSIS spokesman in a written statement. “Combating Salmonella remains a top priority for FSIS and we continue to take all steps within our authority to reduce foodborne illness.” This small recall comes on the heels of Food Safety News’ announcement that the most recent Salmonella outbreak had surpassed 600 official cases and at least 212 hospitalizations. The new cases were reported by the California Department of Public Health, which has now seen 468 of the cases — by far the most of any state. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet updated its outbreak page. Earlier, Foster Farms chicken was linked to another Salmonella outbreak that sickened 134 people in 13 states and caused at least 33 hospitalizations. “I commend both Foster Farms and FSIS for doing the right thing for food safety,” said food safety attorney Bill Marler, whose law firm, Marler Clark, underwrites Food Safety News. “Recalling product is both embarrassing and hard, but is the right thing to do for your customers.” According to USDA, Salmonella is not an adulterant on chicken the way harmful E. coli is considered an adulterant in ground beef. Because of that, the agency has been extremely limited in its abilities to regulate Foster Farms. A bill recently introduced by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) would explicitly give FSIS the authority to declare any foodborne pathogen an adulterant and recall contaminated products. Even when the product is tied to an outbreak, it is not illegal for chicken to be contaminated with Salmonella, and so the USDA had no way to enforce a recall on Foster Farms unless it could prove a strong connection between a human illness and a specific lot of chicken products. As USDA Assistant Administrator for FSIS Field Operations Daniel Engeljohn explained to trade publication Meatingplace in October 2013:
In October 2013, a coalition of consumer groups urged USDA to force a recall of Foster Farms chicken. Just before that, the agency announced it had no plans to enforce a recall or shut down any of the company’s plants after Foster Farms complied with making revisions to its food safety protocols. Last month, California-based Foster Farms celebrated its 75th anniversary, at which time the family firm was honored for its leadership in the poultry industry and commitment to consumers by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), U.S. Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA) and David Valadao (R-CA), and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “Foster Farms used the occasion of its anniversary to report on the company’s $75 million effort to reduce Salmonella,” a company statement read. “Most recent 10-week data, shared with both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicated a Salmonella parts level of approximately 2 percent, significantly less than the USDA reported 2011/2012 industry benchmark of 25 percent.” Food Safety News has reported extensively on the Foster Farms outbreaks and the issue of why some meat or poultry products are recalled for contamination and others are not. Read more here: “Fight Over Salmonella and Adulterants Spills into the Chicken Coop” CDC estimates that for every one case of Salmonella that is detected, another 29 cases go undetected. Those estimates would suggest that the Foster Farms outbreak may have affected more than 17,000 people.