U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted a shutdown threat against California-Based Foster Farms on Thursday, after the company demonstrated improved conditions following a salmonella outbreak linked to three of its plants. The outbreak has sickened 278 people in 17 states since March, mostly confined to the west coast, is particularly resistant to antibiotics. 42 percent of those infected have been hospitalized — an unusually high percentage.
Foster Farms had to meet a Thursday deadline to show improvement after receiving a letter from the USDA on Monday, warning the company that the sanitary conditions at its plant "could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health." The letter notes that Foster Farms was cited 12 times since January for unsanitary conditions (you can read the full letter here, via the LA Times). The USDA, along with the CDC, have handled the outbreak in the midst of a partial government shutdown. That shutdown has crippled the agencies' ability to handle health crises exactly like this one.
In case you're not clear on what salmonella is, the Associated Press helpfully explains:
Salmonella can contaminate meat during slaughter and processing and is especially common in raw chicken. The infections can be avoided by proper handling and cooking of raw poultry. The pathogen causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within a few days of eating a contaminated product and can be life-threatening to those with weakened immune systems.
Despite this, Foster Farms has not recalled the chicken connected to the ongoing infection — nor is it required to by law. Instead, the company has advised customers to thoroughly cook chicken. The company's CEO Ron Foster apologized for the outbreak in a note on the Foster Farms' site: "On behalf of my family I am sorry for any foodborne illness associated with Foster Farms chicken," he said.