Canadian officials are investigating a Salmonella outbreak that stretches across four provinces and has been linked to frozen, raw, breaded chicken products, but no recall has been issued.

With illness onset dates in April and May, there are at least seven confirmed cases of Salmonella infections, according to a notice released Monday by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Alberta has four confirmed cases while one case has been confirmed in each of British Columbia, Ontario and New Brunswick.

frozen chicken Salmonella illustrationPrior to this week, the Canadian government had not released information about the outbreak. No deaths have been reported, but two of the seven outbreak victims were so sick they required hospitalization.

The pubic health notice did not indicate if the implicated chicken products were available to consumers in retail stores, served by restaurants, served by institutional kitchens such as schools or hospitals, or all of the above. The notice also did not specify if the chicken products were in entrees, snacks or sandwiches.

“Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to frozen raw breaded chicken products has been identified as a source of illness. The outbreak investigation is active, and the public health notice will be updated on a regular basis as the investigation evolves,” according to the public health notice.

Inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are working with public health officials, but they have not yet gleaned enough information to issue a product recall.

“If the CFIA investigation identifies specific products on the market that represent elevated health risk to consumers, the CFIA would determine appropriate risk mitigation actions such as product recalls,” a CFIA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Although public health officials haven’t named specific products or brands, the outbreak notice definitively states the illnesses are “linked to frozen raw breaded chicken products.”

frozen breaded chicken wing
Frozen, breaded chicken wing.

Anyone who has eaten any such products and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure so the correct diagnostic tests can be conducted.

Symptoms typically start 6 hours to 72 hours after exposure and can include fever, chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually last for four to seven days, according to the public health notice.

“In healthy people, salmonellosis often clears up without treatment. In some cases, severe illness and hospitalization may occur. … It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and not get sick or show any symptoms, but still be able to spread the infection to others,” the public health notice states.

“Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are more fragile than healthy individuals.”

The Canadian public health notice reminded consumers of their responsibility to practice good food safety behaviors at home to avoid foodborne illnesses. Salmonella is commonly found in raw chicken and frozen raw breaded chicken products, according to the notice.

“This outbreak is a reminder that frozen raw breaded chicken products contain raw poultry and should be handled and prepared no differently from other raw poultry products. Follow cooking instructions carefully and verify the internal temperature after cooking, as recommended, before consuming these products. Frozen raw breaded chicken products must be cooked to a safe internal temperature of at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) to ensure they are safe to eat,” according to the public health notice.

Additional tips from the Public Health Agency of Canada regarding frozen, raw, breaded chicken products include:

  • Frozen, breaded chicken nuggets.

    Because of uneven heating, microwave cooking of frozen, raw, breaded poultry products including chicken nuggets, strips or burgers is not recommended. Always follow package cooking instructions, including products labelled Uncooked, Cook and Serve, Ready to Cook, and Oven Ready.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling frozen, raw, breaded chicken products.
  • Use a separate plate, cutting board and utensils when handling frozen, raw, breaded chicken products to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
  • Use a digital food thermometer to verify that frozen, raw, breaded chicken products have reached at least 74 degrees C (165 degrees F). Insert the digital food thermometer through the side of the product, all the way to the middle. Oven-safe meat thermometers that are designed for testing whole poultry and roasts during cooking are not suitable for testing nuggets, strips or burgers.

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