3 salmonella-linked plants can stay open, for now

National

3 salmonella-linked plants can stay open, for now

Posted: Updated:

WASHINGTON - The Agriculture Department says three California poultry processing facilities linked to a salmonella outbreak in raw chicken can stay open, for now.

In a statement Thursday, the USDA said Foster Farms, which owns the facilities in Fresno and Livingston, Calif., 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.

Sampling by the USDA in September showed that raw chicken processed by those facilities included strains of salmonella that were linked to the outbreak that has sickened 278 people in 17 states.

The USDA said government inspectors will monitor the company's improvements and "continue intensified sampling" of Foster Farms meat for the next three months.

In a Monday letter to Foster Farms, the USDA said the positive samples coupled with the illnesses suggest that the sanitary conditions at the facility "could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health." The company had until Thursday to respond.

The outbreak, which has been going on since March, has had a high rate of hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 42 percent of victims were hospitalized, about double the normal rate, and it is resistant to many antibiotics, making it more dangerous.

In a statement Thursday, Foster Farms President Ron Foster said the company 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 the company's agreement with the USDA to keep the plants open.

The CDC says the outbreak is ongoing and some illnesses began as recently as two weeks ago. The majority of illnesses have been in California, but people in 17 states have been infected, from Texas to Michigan to North Carolina.

Even though the meat hasn't been recalled, some grocery stores are taking it off their shelves anyway. Kroger Co. said it is taking some Foster Farms products from the shelves in certain stores and calling customers who it knows may have purchased the products. The company owns several chains, including Ralph's, Fred Meyer, Fry's and others.

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates 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 can be life-threatening to those with weakened immune systems and causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within a few days of eating a contaminated product.

Consumer advocates have for several years petitioned the department to change the way salmonella outbreaks in meat are handled. Because salmonella is so prevalent in poultry and is killed if consumers handle and cook it properly, the government has not declared it to be an "adulterant," or illegal, in meat, as is E. coli. Outbreaks of salmonella in poultry can take longer to discover and recalls don't happen as quickly.

If the outbreak had been E. coli, or if the salmonella had been found in food that wasn't meat, then the government would have had more authority to force a recall. That's because USDA, which oversees meat safety, classifies most of the main types of E. coli as illegal. The Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety of most other food and doesn't distinguish pathogens in foods - salmonella is treated as seriously as any other contaminant.

With the evidence they have, withdrawing meat inspectors and shutting down the plant would have been the best regulatory recourse the agency had, officials said. If USDA had decided to force a recall, it would most likely have had to go through the courts.

The partial federal government shutdown has also been hampering the government response to food safety issues. While USDA's meat inspectors are on the job, the CDC had furloughed many of those who work to investigate outbreaks. But the CDC recalled many of those workers Tuesday to work on the salmonella outbreak.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Email Alert Sign Up

    Sign up here to receive breaking news stories from KSWT.com and morning updates to your email inbox.

    * denotes required fields


    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Go to KSWT-TV's Facebook page
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • 6 injured as car jumps curb near Stanford

    6 injured as car jumps curb near Stanford

    Police in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Palo Alto say six people were injured, one critically, when a car jumped a curb outside a cafe.More >>
    Police say a man in his 90s drove on to a busy sidewalk near Stanford University, hitting five pedestrians and leaving one of them with major injuries.More >>
  • Got Solar? Utility looking to place solar panels on a home near you

    Got Solar? Utility looking to place solar panels on a home near you

    Arizona's top utility company is looking to place solar panels on 3,000 homes; at no cost to the homeownerArizona Public Service announced that they plan on placing these panels on residents homes and in turn for the usage of their roofs the utility company will give them a $30 discount on their monthly bill for the next 20 years. If approved by regulators APS will spend anywhere from 50 to 70 million in project costs. This new initiative will help the utility giant meets it's mandatory alter...More >>
    Arizona's top utility company is looking to place solar panels on 3,000 homes; at no cost to the homeownerArizona Public Service announced that they plan on placing these panels on residents homes and in turn for the usage of their roofs the utility company will give them a $30 discount on their monthly bill for the next 20 years. If approved by regulators APS will spend anywhere from 50 to 70 million in project costs. This new initiative will help the utility giant meets it's mandatory alter...More >>
  • National

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Web Producer: Lucy Valencia, Assignment Desk Editor WASHINGTON (AP) -- Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits willMore >>
    Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits will be delayed if congressional Republicans fail to increase the government's borrowing authority in a looming showdown over the nation's debt and spending.More >>
  • Father time reared his head

    Father time reared his head

    As UCLA tallied the damage from rampant flooding triggered by the rupture of a 90-year-old city water line, Los Angeles city leaders on Wednesday were once again confronted with the consequences of deferred maintenance on the city's aging infrastructure. Officials have long known that hundreds of miles of city water lines have deteriorated and need replacement, with many past the century mark. But in recent years, L.A.'s elected leaders have been unwilling to hike water rates enough to fix th...More >>
    As UCLA tallied the damage from rampant flooding triggered by the rupture of a 90-year-old city water line, Los Angeles city leaders on Wednesday were once again confronted with the consequences of deferred maintenance on the city's aging infrastructure. Officials have long known that hundreds of miles of city water lines have deteriorated and need replacement, with many past the century mark. But in recent years, L.A.'s elected leaders have been unwilling to hike water rates enough to fix th...More >>
  • Yuma woman charged with hindering prosecution of murder suspect

    Yuma woman charged with hindering prosecution of murder suspect

    YUMA, AZ- Another woman is charged with hindering prosecution of a murder suspect in the death of a Yuma man. Regina Garcia went before Judge Gregory Stewart in Yuma Justice Court Thursday afternoon.More >>
    Another woman is charged with hindering prosecution of a murder suspect in the death of a Yuma man.More >>
  • 13 arrested in Phoenix area stolen property probe

    13 arrested in Phoenix area stolen property probe

    Authorities say 13 people have been arrested after search warrants were served in Gilbert and Chandler after a seven-month drug and stolen property investigation.More >>
    Authorities say 13 people have been arrested after search warrants were served in Gilbert and Chandler after a seven-month drug and stolen property investigation.More >>
  • Union: California prison staff told to fake checks

    Union: California prison staff told to fake checks

    A union says California prison employees were pressured into falsifying suicide watch records at the state's Stockton medical facility, endangering inmates and violating court-mandated standards.More >>
    A union says California prison employees were pressured into falsifying suicide watch records at the state's Stockton medical facility, endangering inmates and violating court-mandated standards.More >>
  • Yuma

    Judge ups grandmother's charges in shooting death of 3-year-old

    Judge ups grandmother's charges in shooting death of 3-year-old

    YUMA, AZ - Monday a Yuma judge has upped the charges against the grandmother - first charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of her 3-year-old grandson Darien Nez. 35-year old Rachel Spry nowMore >>
    Monday a Yuma judge has upped the charges against the grandmother - first charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of her 3-year-old grandson Darien Nez.More >>