MINNEAPOLIS -- Four cases of salmonellosis in Minnesota have been linked to frozen, prebrowned, single-serving, microwavable stuffed chicken entrees, state health and agriculture officials said today. The findings prompted them to remind consumers to make sure that all raw poultry products are cooked thoroughly and handled carefully.
While these products are breaded and prebrowned, and so may appear to be precooked, they are in fact still raw and need to be prepared accordingly, said Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
Investigators from MDH determined that at least four cases of salmonellosis from January through March 2005 were due to the same strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. Epidemiologists traced the source of the illnesses to a line of products produced at a plant in Illinois with the plant code P-1358. The plant number is located inside a circle with the words Inspected by USDA, with the number appearing at the bottom of the circle. Look for the USDA inspection logo.
The items identified in the outbreak, such as chicken broccoli and cheese, and possibly chicken Kiev and chicken cordon bleu, were sold at Cub stores under the Cub brand. The strain of Salmonella Heidelberg matching the genetic fingerprint of that involved in the illnesses was found in at least one package of chicken broccoli and cheese sampled from a Cub store. However products with the same plant code may have been sold at other stores. Officials from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the products distribution.
Salmonella is sometimes present in raw chicken, which is why it is important for consumers to follow safe food handling practices. This includes cooking all raw poultry products to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. According to MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Director Kevin Elfering, the problem in these cases appeared to be that consumers didnt realize they were preparing a raw product.
These items are breaded, prebrowned and individually wrapped, so its possible someone could have mistakenly assumed they have been precooked, Elfering said. Although the wrapper includes instructions to fully cook the product, some consumers might have overlooked that information and simply heated it in a microwave. Because different microwaves have different cooking capacities, we always recommend using a meat thermometer to make sure youve cooked the product to the right temperature.
While weve identified one line of products in this case, the problem has to do more with the labeling and cooking instructions than with the product itself, Hull said. So we are advising consumers that they need to prepare all products like this appropriately, regardless of the brand or place of purchase.
Cub has voluntarily pulled the implicated lots from its shelves. Our chief concern is in preventing further illnesses. Cub deserves tremendous praise for taking this extra measure of caution to protect consumers, which they did even before we confirmed the source of the illnesses, Hull said. Cub officials indicated they will redesign the labels and packaging to be clearer before this type of product is put back on store shelves.
Its important to note that because Salmonella is not considered an adulterant in raw poultry, no recall is required, according to federal guidelines. Consumers with the products in their freezers, if they choose to use them, should read the labels carefully and cook it thoroughly, MDA and MDH officials advised.
Other important food handling practices include washing your hands before and after handling raw meat, using a clean plate or platter for cooked meat, and keeping raw and cooked foods separate to avoid cross-contamination. Consumers can find more information about safe food-handling practices on the Minnesota Department of Agricultures Web site.
Elfering and Hull said state officials will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider requiring individually wrapped breaded chicken products to include more prominent label information clearly stating they are raw products.
Consumers need to pay close attention to the packaging and instructions for preparation when they buy a product like this, Hull said. Any poultry or other raw meat can be contaminated with Salmonella or other bacteria that cause disease, so it always needs to be handled appropriately and thoroughly cooked.
Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps and fever. Symptoms usually begin within 12 to 72 hours after exposure, but can begin up to a week after exposure. Salmonella infections usually resolve in 5-7 days, but approximately 20 percent of cases require hospitalization. In rare cases, Salmonella infection can lead to death, particularly in the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.
Approximately 600 to 700 cases of salmonellosis are reported each year in Minnesota.
Source: Minnesota Department of Health