Salmonella Outbreak in Minnesota Prompts USDA Warning on Frozen Chicken Entrees

Two cases of <"">Salmonella poisoning in Minnesota have been linked to Milford Valley Farms Chicken Cordon Bleu raw frozen chicken entrees. While no recall was issued, consumers are being warned to cook the raw, frozen chicken dinners thoroughly, and to avoid preparing them in microwave ovens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Salmonella bacteria sicken 40,000 people every year. Although the true number could be much higher, because it is estimated that for every case of Salmonella poisoning reported, two others are unreported.  Salmonella causes fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, Salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. In rare cases, Salmonella can cause a disease called Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.

In Minnesota, the Milford Valley Farms Chicken Cordon Bleu entrees are known to have made two people sick.   According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), products linked to the illnesses were produced by Serenade Foods, a Milford, Ind., establishment. Products include “Chicken Breast with Rib Meat Chicken Cordon Bleu” and “Chicken Breast with Rib Meat Buffalo Style” sold under the brand names “Milford Valley Farms,” “Dutch Farms” and “Kirkwood.” The individually wrapped, 6-ounce products were produced on January 21, 2008 (date code C8021 is printed on the side of the package).  The USDA said each of these packages bears the establishment number “Est. P-2375″ inside the USDA mark of inspection. These specific products were distributed to retail establishments in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Frozen raw chicken breast products covered by the USDA alert and similar products may be stuffed or filled, breaded or browned such that they appear to be cooked. These items may be labeled “chicken cordon bleu,” “chicken kiev” or chicken breast stuffed with cheese, vegetables or other items.  All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° Fahrenheit as determined by a food thermometer. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.  It is especially important that these products be cooked in a conventional oven, rather than a microwave oven.

This the fifth outbreak of salmonellosis in Minnesota linked to these types of products since 1998.  Investigators from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) determined that two cases of Salmonella infection from February and March 2008 were due to the same strain of Salmonella Enteritidis. The illnesses occurred in a teenager and a young adult, both from greater Minnesota; both were hospitalized but have since recovered.

It is not unusual for frozen entrees and other frozen food products to be implicated in Salmonella outbreaks.    In October 2007,  ConAgra’s store brand and Banquet Pot Pies were recalled after 272 people in 35 states contracted Salmonella poisoning from the tainted pot pies.  Before returning Banquet Pot Pies to the market earlier this year, ConAgra improved what even it conceded were the “confusing” cooking instructions on the package that likely led to the Salmonella outbreak.

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