Three people in Miami-Dade County have been sickened by salmonella linked to Foster Farms chicken, the Florida Department of Health said Thursday.
A fourth case of salmonellosis – which is an infection with salmonella, a group of bacteria that can make people ill – was reported in Brevard County. The cases were linked to chicken from Foster Farms by DNA fingerprinting, health officials said.
The salmonella cases are linked to three California poultry processing facilities owned by Foster Farms. Most of the illnesses have been in California, but 278 people in 17 states have been infected.
People who have eaten the suspect chicken and experience symptoms such as diarrehea, fever, and abdominal cramps should get medical attention, according to Dr. Anna Marie Likos, who is the director of the DOH’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection and the state epidemiologist.
The Miami-Dade County Health Department launched an investigation Thursday. Officials are looking to interview those people who have gotten sick, said Dr. Alvaro Mejia-Echeverry, an epidemiologist with the department.
“The exact mechanism of how they got infected, when they ate the chicken, how whether it was in a restaurant or at home, we don’t know yet,” he said.
Salmonella is spread when people handle raw chicken without washing their hands and don’t cook the meat. Experts say many cases go undetected.
“It’s usually a self-limited illness. That means that usually the human body is able to take care of the infection without the help of antibiotics,” Mejia-Echeverry said. “Most of the time people may require hydration or rehydration.”
The Department of Health said consumers who bought chicken with the problematic plant numbers P6137, P6137A and P7632 should get rid of it. People who believe they've been sickened by eating contaminated chicken should contact their local health department.
The Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating.
The USDA said Thursday that Foster Farms' three facilities can stay open for now. The agency said in a statement that the company has made "immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations."
The department threatened earlier this week to shut down the plants if Foster Farms did not prove that it had made enough changes.
The company's president, Ron Foster, said in a statement that Foster Farms has been working for two months to add increased food safety controls.
"This officially validates our progress, but we are not stopping here," Foster said of his company's agreement with the government to keep the plants open.
The outbreak wasn't spotted right away. Some people are blaming the government shutdown, which furloughed more than half of the employees at the CDC. That could have been prevented, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said.
"Maybe we wouldn't have had this outbreak or they’d have been able to spot it and stem it quickly before it spread," he said.
After the outbreak, 30 employees were called back.