One person is dead and at least 16 others have been infected by a strain of Salmonella found during routine federal testing at two raw chicken processing plants.

The implicated raw chicken was packaged under the Empire Kosher brand. It was produced from September 2017 through June this year, according to a public health alert posted by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

No other brands have been named by federal officials. They also have not named the specific processing plants where contaminated chicken was found or who owns them. The FSIS did not include any information in its alert regarding when its routine testing detected the Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- in raw chicken samples.

Yesterday public health officials urged consumers to check their freezers for Empire Kosher brand chicken. Anyone who has it on hand should “properly handle, prepare, and cook these raw chicken products” to avoid cross-contamination and kill bacteria. Some consumers may prefer to discard the chicken to avoid the chance of infection. The chicken could have been packaged and sold to consumers as raw whole birds or raw chicken parts, FSIS reported.

Outbreak investigators have interviewed 14 of the 17 known victims. All 14 reported eating chicken in the days before becoming sick. Of nine victims with information available, seven reported eating Empire Kosher brand chicken before becoming ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC did not reveal how long it and state health departments have been investigating the outbreak. In its Aug. 29 investigation notice, the CDC reported it had matched Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- from patients’ lab work to the Salmonella found by the FSIS in the samples of raw chicken. 

Victims range from less than a year old to 76 years old, according to the CDC. Half of them have had symptoms so severe that they had to be admitted to hospitals. New York has been hardest hit, with 11 illnesses and one death. Pennsylvania has four confirmed cases. Maryland and Virginia have one each.  

The FSIS public health alert says the USDA’s sub-agency was notified June 18 about Salmonella illnesses in four states. The CDC’s notice said known illness onset dates range from Sept. 25, 2017, through June 4 this year.

In an undated statement on the corporation’s website, Empire Chicken officials said they have “no data that connects this tragic event to our products…” The statement emphasized that no recalls have been initiated in connection with the outbreak.

“CDC is not advising that people avoid eating kosher chicken or Empire Kosher brand chicken and no products are being recalled,” according to the company’s statement. “Empire Kosher, along with the USDA and CDC, want to remind consumers of safe handling practices for raw chicken. When handled and cooked properly to 165 degrees F, consumers can continue to have full confidence in chicken products, including the Empire Kosher brand.”

Empire Kosher Poultry Inc. is the largest producer of kosher poultry in the United States. The company’s headquarters, hatchery, and processing facility are located in Mifflintown, PA.

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