Valley reaction to health alert over Foster Farms chicken

FRESNO, Calif.

Industry experts said it's important to note the USDA's move is an alert, not a recall which is why stores aren't required to pull Foster Farms products from their shelves, but some families are demanding more information about how to reduce their risk of getting sick.

"I've eaten it, my husband has eaten it, my daughters have eaten it and I've been feeding my dog boiled chicken with rice this week because he's sick so of course we have a lot of concerns," said Fresno resident Stacey Velasco.

Velasco is among a growing number of people concerned about their safety after consuming chicken produced by Foster Farms.

"I got four of the packages and we cooked two of them already so when I saw the news last night, I was like I better go and check what we have in the freezer and sure enough it was like winning the lotto. I had the winning numbers of the salmonella chicken," she said.

The products in question contain lot numbers including P-6137, P-6137A and P-7632, which can found on the labels of the packaging.

The USDA reported at least 278 illnesses have been linked to the Foster Farms brands in 18 states, most of them in California. Officials with the agency's Food Safety Inspection Service said the chicken was also traced back to three facilities in the Central Valley, including two in Fresno and one in Livingston, but officials were unable to tie the illnesses to a specific product or a specific production period.

In a statement released by Foster Farms said, "It is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have Salmonella. It is important for consumers to follow food safety tips when handling raw poultry to help protect themselves and others from foodborne illness."

Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, David Luchini, took the warning one step further.

"This is a good reminder of handling raw meats in the home. People tend to think they may have gotten sick in a restaurant or another establishment, but many of our food-borne illnesses occur in the home."

He recommends consumers wash their hands before and after handling raw chicken, cleaning kitchen counters and utensils with the proper solution to avoid cross-contamination and following cooking instructions often seen on store packaging.

"One of the steps that seems to get skipped is the proper heating of chicken," he said. "It's very important that it gets to 165 degrees internally, inside the chicken so you need to use the meat thermometer, otherwise you don't kill off the bacteria, it survives and you eat it and get sick."

Luchini said illnesses from salmonella have the potential of becoming life-threatening, especially in people with weak immune systems like children, the elderly and those with cancer or HIV, but the most common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight hours to three days after eating the contaminated product.

As for Velasco, she said, "I'm not going to chance it. I don't sit there with a thermometer to see if it's 165 degrees."

She took the Foster Farm chicken she purchased back to the store to try her "luck" at getting a full refund. "I got my money back," she said.

A Centers for Disease Control spokesperson told ABC News,10 staff members are now back after being furloughed to work on this investigation. Barbara Reynolds said the outbreak looks very complex because it involves seven different strains of salmonella resistant to antibiotics.

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