Two states are warning consumers about raw, frozen, breaded chicken from food pantries because people developed Salmonella infections after eating the product. The pantries have been distributing the chicken since February. 

Pantry operators say they did not know the chicken was raw when they distributed it. They also said consumers did not cook it properly.

Ruby’s Pantry, described as a volunteer faith-based operation on its website, has multiple locations for its “pop up pantry’s” in Wisconsin and Minnesota. At least three people in Wisconsin and one person in Minnesota told public health officials they ate the implicated chicken before becoming ill.

State officials are telling consumers to throw away the chicken. Or, if they choose to eat it, consumers should use a food thermometer to make sure the chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F.

“(The) raw breaded chicken product, that may look fully cooked, was distributed to Ruby’s Pantry patrons without cooking instructions or labels stating that the product was raw,” according to today’s warning from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“These products may be raw even if they appear cooked. Ruby’s Pantry is cooperating with investigators and has voluntarily agreed to not distribute any unlabeled chicken products.”

Neither state nor the pantry reported whether the chicken has any packaging information that consumers can use to determine if they have the product in question. 

Anyone who has consumed chicken from a Ruby’s Pantry and are experiencing symptoms of salmonellosis should immediately contact your health care provider. Ill consumers in Wisconsin should also contact their local health department and ill Minnesotans should contact the Minnesota Department of Health.

Operators of Ruby’s Pantry posted an “Important Meat Cooking Announcement” dated today on the organization’s website. It was addressed to volunteers and guests. The announcement describes the raw, frozen, breaded chicken as “perfectly good.” The statement says the operators have been working with Wisconsin and Minnesota officials to investigate the situation since May 25.

“We were initially unaware that the chicken arrived uncooked. It is breaded and looks very much like cooked chicken. It is an excellent product; however, it does need to be fully cooked,” according to the statement signed by Ruby’s Pantry founder and executive director Lyn Sahr.

“This chicken was recently distributed through a number of Ruby’s Pop-Up Pantries in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The chicken is perfectly good; however, some did not cook it fully, assuming it was precooked and that they could simply heat it in the microwave for a short time.

“… Thank you in advance for your kind responses and considerations in helping others and yourself to make this a wonderful experience.” 

Ruby’s Pantry has 25 locations listed on its website. Some are churches and other sites that are “easily accessible for guests.” The organization did not specify which locations distributed the chicken linked to the Salmonella infections.

Salmonella bacteria under high magnification.

Advice to consumers
As with any raw chicken, anyone handling frozen raw chicken products should exercise safe food practices to kill foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella. Special care is also necessary to avoid contaminating preparation areas, utensils and hands.

The following tips are recommended by state and federal health officials for the safe handling of raw poultry.

  • Wash hands and surfaces often when handling raw poultry.
  • Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate or freeze raw poultry promptly after purchasing.
  • Cook all raw poultry to an internal temperature of 165ºF.
  • Always follow manufacturer’s instructions provided on product packaging.
  • Place cooked poultry on a clean plate or platter before serving.
  • Report suspected food poisoning to your local health department.

Salmonellosis is caused by Salmonella bacteria that are spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by direct or indirect contact with fecal matter from infected people or animals. Tiny amounts of the bacteria that cannot be seen with the naked eye can contaminate large amounts of food and can be transmitted directly from person to person.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection include diarrhea, abdominal pains, fever, and vomiting that lasts for several days. 

Bloodstream infections can occur, but are rare, and can be quite serious in the very young and older people. Many people recover from salmonellosis on their own, but may require extra fluids to prevent dehydration.

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