Are CDC’s Detectives At Work During Shutdown While Salmonella Outbreak Sickens Hundreds?

Often when we hear news of a food-borne disease, the worst has passed and the government works to educate consumers on which products have been recalled. However with 278 people in 18 states sickened by a salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken products from California, no recall has been announced and the United States Department of Agriculture says “the outbreak is continuing.” But are any of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s elite food detectives at work during the government shutdown to trace track down the source of the contamination?

The Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public alert (which again, you can’t find going through USDA.gov) calling out three facilities operated by Foster Farms as the likely source of the raw chicken tainted with a strain of bacteria known as salmonella Heidelberg.

The FSIS says that right now, it can’t pinpoint a specific product or a specific production period to blame for the outbreak, but the products bear one of three establishment numbers inside a USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package: P6137, P6137A and P7632.

Most of the chicken was sold in California, Oregon and Washington, while the majority of illnesses reported thus far have been in California.

Meanwhile, Foster Farms says in its own press release that it’s working with USDA inspectors and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address the outbreak. The company’s food safety chief, Robert O’Connor, says the USDA inspection process has not been affected by the federal government shutdown.

But as Wired.com aptly points out, the CDC disease detectives who would usually track down the source of multi-state outbreaks like this one might not be on the job due to the government shutdown.

“I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations,” a CDC staffer told Wired.com’s Maryn McKenna last week. “States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won’t be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders.”

The FSIS’ statement on the outbreak simply says the CDC “is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while FSIS continues its investigation,” but doesn’t address whether or not the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service officers are working on the case.

We’ve reached out to the CDC and FSIS and will let you know if we get an answer about who, if anyone, is on the job.

Foster Farms Working With FSIS And CDC To Address Salmonella Associated With Raw Poultry Products Reportedly Linked To Three California Facilities [Foster Farms]
FSIS Issues Public Health Alert for Chicken Products Produced at Three Foster Farms Facilities [FSIS.gov]
There’s a Major Foodborne Illness Outbreak and the Government’s Shut Down [Wired.com]