Effect Measure

There’s another Salmonella multistate outbreak, this one involving 12 states and, so far, 32 cases. As with the infmaous tomator and/or pepper problem during the summer, the Minnesota Department of Public Health’s laboratory has been in the lead in tracking down the source. Salmonella is killed by cooking, so raw produce or cross contamination of foods eaten uncooked (like a salad) by raw meat (for example, when cut on the same cutting board) is the usual source. But if you don’t cook meat (for example, you just heat them up for eating) and it has Salmonella, you could have a problem. That’s apparently what is happening in this case. The vehicle is frozen chicken dinners that appear to be cooked but are actually raw chicken:

USDA said many of the people who became ill apparently did not follow the package’s cooking instructions and microwaved the chicken dishes even though the instructions did not provide for it. Microwaving didn’t heat the meals enough to kill the salmonella.

The department said consumers should cook chicken products to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (AP via US News)

I checked the USDA site but couldn’t find any more details and its press office didn’t return the calls of the AP reporter lat Friday. So I went to the Minnesota Department of Public Health website, which was much more informative:

The implicated product is Milford Valley Farms Chicken Cordon Bleu and Chicken Kiev. This product is sold at many different grocery store chains.

This is the sixth outbreak of salmonellosis in Minnesota linked to these types of products since 1998. The findings prompted the officials to urge consumers to make sure that all raw poultry products are handled carefully and cooked thoroughly, and to avoid cooking raw chicken products in the microwave because of the risk of undercooking.

Investigators from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) determined that 14 cases of Salmonella infection since July 2008 were due to the same strain of Salmonella. The illnesses occurred in both children and adults; six of the cases were hospitalized but have since recovered.

“The frozen chicken entrees in the outbreaks we’ve seen in Minnesota are breaded, pre-browned and individually wrapped, so it’s likely most ill consumers mistakenly assumed they have been precooked,” Kassenborg said. (Minnesota Health Department)

The AP story, based on USDA information (such as it was; the brand isn’t even mentioned) implies that consumers were at fault for not following label directions, but the Minnesota Health Department information makes clear these same products were previously sold as being microwaveable. Minnesota no longer allows these kinds of frozen products to be marketed as microwaveable but their appearance suggests they are Ready To Eat when heated and not uncooked frozen raw meat.

This is another instance of a food safety system that is badly broken. Thirty two people in 12 states now know first hand just how badly broken.

Comments

  1. #1 Claudia
    October 7, 2008

    It’s always made me concerned when I hear of anyone cooking chicken in a microwave – it’s never been safe, and never will be safe, in my mind.

    As far as I’m concerned, microwaves are for heating liquids, re-heating left-overs, and popping popcorn. Other than that, mine sees no use at all.

    Also, this is another one of those cases where blame is assigned to the victim. I don’t like that any more than I like the idea of “cooking” chicken in a microwave.

  2. #2 Lea
    October 7, 2008

    Along with that Claudia it’s my understanding that microwaving foods destroys the natural digestive enzymes in the food as well.
    Off topic a tad but does anyone here use a solar oven?

  3. #3 Evan Henke
    October 8, 2008

    Some companies have good labels on their raw-chicken products that clearly convey to anyone who even so much as glances at them that the products can not be cooked in the microwave. Milford Valley Farms products are doing an unbelievably poor job at displaying warnings on their individually wrapped stuffed chicken products. To make matters worse, they produce microwavable products that are displayed right next to raw products in the freezer section.

    I’ve been working at the MN Dept. of Health for a few weeks on Team Diarrhea, a group of public health grad students who actually interview patients sickened with matching strains of Salmonella (and other foodborne pathogens) using open-ended interviews that detail exposure history. We interview any and all reports of foodborne illnesses in the state. Sadly, we along with Oregon (which uses a “shotgun” questionnaire) are the only places where such comprehensive surveillance occurs on a regular basis with such results.

    It’s shocking to grasp as a young public health student that an astonishingly high percentage of national and international foodborne outbreaks in this country are unsolved until they arrive in MN or OR where crack teams of highly-funded (by CDC FoodNet grants) epidemiologists finally solve the mystery with 3 or 4 cases. I’m not knocking other states, but I do think our country could do better at tracking foodborne illnesses if regional or perhaps statewide “Team D”s were established elsewhere, given the appropriate funding.