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Foster Farms Recalls Chicken Amid Outbreak: What Took So Long?

California chicken producer Foster Farms has issued a recall for 170 different chicken products originating from the company's Fresno facilities in March for possible salmonella contamination.

The products affected by the recall include drumsticks, thighs, chicken tenders, and livers under various labels including Foster Farms, FoodMaxx, Kroger, Safeway, Savemart, Valbest and Sunland. According to The Associated Press, the products were distributed to California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, and Hawaii; they all have "use or freeze by" dates from March 21 to March 29 of this year.

Why is this recall just happening now? And how does it relate to the ongoing salmonella outbreak that's sickened nearly 600 people in 27 states?

Direct Link to Salmonella Case

The recall was issued after USDA lab tests confirmed that Foster Farms chicken was the source of salmonella that sickened a 10-year-old girl. According to LA Weekly, the girl's family bought the chicken on March 16, the girl ate it April 29, and began to show symptoms of food borne illness on May 5. The USDA recovered the remainder of the chicken for testing on June 23 and found a molecular match between the bacteria on the chicken and the bacteria infecting the girl.

Although the USDA shut down three Foster Farms plants last year for unsanitary conditions, the most recent case is the first direct link to Foster Farms from the widespread salmonella outbreak. A similar strain of Salmonella Heidelberg, an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacteria, is implicated in the broader outbreak, but this is the first recall to be issued by the company.

Why Did It Take So Long?

A quirk in food safety law allows raw chicken to contain salmonella as a "naturally occurring substance." Thus, the FDA has no power to compel a mandatory recall for salmonella found in chicken and must instead rely on manufacturers to issue voluntary recalls, as happened with the most recent Foster Farms recall.

To address this perceived shortfall, a bill has been introduced into the U.S. House that would allow the USDA to recall meat, poultry, or eggs contaminated by any bacteria that's resistant to two or more "critically important antibiotics," reports LA Weekly.

A full list of products affected by the Foster Farms recall is posted on the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

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