Raw, Frozen Chicken Entrees Prompt New Salmonella Warning

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently issued a statement alerting consumers about the link between dozens of multi-state cases of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/salmonella">salmonella poisonings and consuming frozen chicken entrees. The USDA is reiterating that warning and asking consumers to read labels when cooking such frozen entrees. This outbreak represents the fourth salmonella outbreak in four years linked to raw, frozen entrees; this year alone, there have been 34 salmonella poisoning cases in at least 12 states. In every case, consumers believed raw, but breaded or pre-browned frozen chicken entrees were cooked.

The USDA previously issued a public health alert to consumers that “instructions on the package need to be followed for safety,” spokeswoman Laura Reiser said. The FDA said the entrees were sold as chicken Kiev, chicken cordon bleu, or stuffed chicken breasts. The products were not meant to be microwaved and did not include microwave instructions; the labels said the chicken was raw. Because the entrees were breaded or pre-browned, some consumers believed them to be precooked and only warmed them in the microwave; however, microwaving did not heat the entrees sufficiently to kill salmonella bacteria, which is commonly is found in raw or undercooked chicken.

Food manufacturers have updated labeling on such chicken products several times over the past year. Older labels used phrases such as “ready to cook” or “not precooked.” Kirk Smith, head of the food-borne disease unit of the Minnesota Department of Health, says people are microwaving the frozen chicken products without focusing on the label stating the entree is raw, and are ignoring the lack of microwave instructions. “We wish the labels would be even more emphatic,” he says adding that “lots of kids and teens and young adults who want something fast” may not be paying attention. “Maybe if on the front of the package there were 3-inch letters—RAW—who knows?” Because all microwaves heat frozen foods unevenly, “It might get 40 degrees hotter than it needs to be, and then two inches away it doesn’t get hot enough,” Smith says.

Apparently, precooking is not an option as it affects the texture and appearance of the chicken. “They’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t sell,” Smith says noting that the best solution would be “electronic pasteurization,” also known as irradiation, which kills the salmonella while the chicken remains raw.

Salmonellosis, an infection with a Salmonella bacterium, is usually found in food contaminated with animal feces, and can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in meat storage. Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection. Generally, the illness lasts a week. In some, hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread to the blood stream and other body sites. Without treatment, severe cases of Salmonellosis can result in death; however, some Salmonella bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.

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