USDA Won't Shut Down Calif. Foster Farms Plants After Salmonella Outbreak

The company will be under an "enhanced inspection period" for the next 90 days

Foster Farms won't be forced to close three California processing plants possibly linked to a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people, the company announced Thursday night.

Federal officials believe plants in Fresno and Livingston may not have properly processed the poultry and were looking into whether the plans would have to be shuttered.

"We have concerns that they have some difficulties in producing a safe product right now," David Goldman, of the Food Safety Inspection Service, said earlier Thursday.

An agreement between FSIS and Foster Farms allows two plants in Fresno and one in Livingston to remain open, as long as they enhance food safety practices.

"This follows Foster Farms’ implementation of several new food safety controls over the last two months and the company’s commitment to install added processes during an enhanced inspection period over the next 90 days," the company said in a statement.

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The outbreak sickened at least 278 people in 17 states, including dozens of Southern California residents. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control originally listed 18 states but later amended the count.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday issued a health warning for the chicken but did not issue a recall. A spokesman for Foster Farms said the infections were caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled chicken.

A Chula Vista family believes they became sick last week from eating tainted chicken.


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"I started feeling violently ill. I had to constantly run to the bathroom, and I thought I had the stomach flu,” Jim Blair said.

The chicken in question bears USDA inspection marks P6137, P6137A and P7632.

Twenty CDC staffers were called back to work to help with the outbreak -- out of 9,000 furloughed by the government shutdown.

"It's really outrageous that Congress is keeping our top experts at home when the public health demands that people be at work," said Caroline Smith DeWall, a food safety inspector for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Some of the Salmonella strains are resistant to antibiotics, with a hospitalization rate that's double the normal amount, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The president of the company under fire, Ron Foster, said in statement that food safety is "at the heart of our family business."

"On behalf of my family, I am sorry for any foodborne illness associated with Foster Farms chicken and for any concern this may have caused you," Foster said.

Consumers must cook chicken to at least 165 degrees and thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw meat. Anyone who believes they were infected and is showing symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal cramps should contact doctors immediately.

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates meat during slaughter and processing, and is especially common in undercooked chicken.

NBC4's Samantha Tata contributed to this report.

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