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.