(CNN) The U.S. Department of Agriculture is demanding Foster Farms, the California company implicated in the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that has sickened over 250 people, respond by Thursday with how the company will fix the problem.
In a letter obtained by CNN, a USDA official told the company since the beginning of the year “your establishment has had multiple regulatory non-compliances issued for insanitary conditions.”
The USDA is threatening to pull federal inspectors in three Foster Farms plants which would, in effect, suspend production.
Chicken from those plants have been implicated in 278 illnesses in 18 states.
The agency has the authority to take action under the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which entrusts the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to keep the public safe from poultry and meat products which are not wholesome, adulterated, or properly marked, labeled and packaged.
“Foster Farms is dedicated to resolving any concerns by the USDA. We are fully cooperating with FSIS during this process and are responding with new and already implemented practices in the affected plants. Some of these interventions have been in place for nearly two months and are proving to be successful. In addition, we have brought in national food safety experts to assess our processes,” said Foster Farms President Ron Foster in a statement released Wednesday evening.
“Earlier this year, we implemented similar new technology and interventions which were found to be highly effective at reducing Salmonella at our Pacific Northwest facility. The FSIS has been fully satisfied with the results,” Foster continued. “Despite the challenges of working with the federal government during the shutdown, we are a responsible business working that much harder in full collaboration with the USDA on a resolution.”
A notice posted on the Foster Farms website states that no recall is in effect and that the company’s products are safe to consume if properly handled and cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer.
The Centers for Disease Control first alerted FSIS to a growing number of Salmonella cases on July 1, USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee told CNN. At the time, 18 people had been sickened in four states, and Foster Farms was a possible link between the patients. USDA investigators began “site sampling,” or testing Foster Farms facilities on September 9, and concluded their analysis of the majority of the samples collected on October 7.
“The partial government shutdown did not affect the investigation or communication with the public,” Lavallee said.
Fast facts on salmonella
The CDC reports that people in a normal state of health who ingest Salmonella-tainted food may experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which typically begin within 12 to 72 hours. This may be accompanied by vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains. These symptoms may last about four to seven days, and then go away without specific treatment. But left unchecked, Salmonella infection may spread to the bloodstream and beyond, and may cause death if the person is not treated promptly with antibiotics.
Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune symptoms should practice extreme caution, as salmonellosis may lead to severe illness or even death.
About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the CDC.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food and Drug Administration’s Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts
FDA Food Safety
United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Education
Salmonella outbreak linked to tainted chicken
Who is looking out for your food safety?
A brief history of chicken washing
What? Chicken butt. Why there’s salmonella in your eggs
More on food poisoning from CNN Health and all food-borne illness coverage on Eatocracy
™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.