The alert came Monday after 278 people became sick with symptoms associated with salmonella. The cases of salmonella are mostly in California, though some were reported in Oregon and Washington.
Daniel Engeljohn with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services said inspectors have not been able to link the illnesses to a specific product or production period. But officials believe it is linked to three Foster Farms Chicken processing plants, two in Fresno, and another in Livingston.
"What we found is that there was a high frequency of contamination of the outbreak strain associated with the products in the facilities," Engeljohn said.
Engeljohn said they are working with Foster Farms to correct the problem.
"We issued what we called a notice of enforcement to the establishment, which gives them 72 hours to properly correct actions." Engeljohn said some of the problems deal with proper identification of the carcasses and anti-bacterial treatments. "If we find that their response to the inadequate then we have the right to withdraw our inspectors from the facilities which would in essence suspend them from operating." Engeljohn said.
The Fresno plants were in full operation Tuesday, as several trucks could be seen entering and leaving the facilities.
"We believe there was not an eminent health threat," Engeljohn said. "We did not see that being the situation here. We believe it to be an action that can be corrected."
David Goldman, the Chief Medical Officer with the USDA, says because they could not target a specific product or production time, inspectors did not issue a recall.
"In this case we have a lot of different production dates spread over a period of time and we don't have specific information so we can ask the company to conduct a specific recall of products," Goldman said. "When we don't have that (information) we will sometimes use the public health alert to raise our concerns."
Raw products from the facilities in question bear one of the establishment numbers inside a USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package:
Families across the Central Valley were checking the chicken in their freezers for those numbers.
Tara Lounsbury and her family were sitting down to enjoy a fried chicken meal Monday evening when they heard of the alert, and realized their chicken packaging had the numbers P6137.
The Sanger family decided not to finish their meal and discard the chicken, but Lounsbury was still worried about her children.
"My kids consumed it, so yeah it's pretty scary," Lounsbury said. "Just wondering how I'm going to get reimbursed, what could happen, what if my kids get sick."
Doctors say if you ingest the contaminated products, symptoms will show in 72 hours. Those symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fevers. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable.
Foster Farms issued a statement Monday assuring their customers that safety is their number one priority and they are working with Food inspectors to correct the problem. They also said their "products are safe to consume if properly handled and cooked."