SEATTLE — A number of salmonella illnesses traced to Foster Farms chicken in Washington and Oregon last year — including three in Yakima County — prompted health officials in both states to remind consumers Thursday that chicken in the kitchen can sicken.
The outbreak is not an unusual threat, said Washington state Health Department spokesman Tim Church. But one doctor said it should serve as a caution.
“The 2012 salmonellosis outbreak is a wakeup call,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak of the Oregon Public Health Division.
“While these outbreaks are unfortunate, they’re also preventable if people take the proper steps when storing, handling and preparing raw poultry products,” he said in a news release.
The Washington Health Department said there were at least 56 cases in the state linked to the Foster Farms chickens. According to the Yakima Health District, there have been three in Yakima County. The Oregon Health Authority said there were 43 cases last year in that state.
All the cases are linked to a specific strain of salmonella Heidelberg bacteria found on Foster Farms chicken from farms in Washington and California. There were no deaths.
Salmonella causes an illness with symptoms like stomach flu — fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea — that last four to seven days. It can be deadly in the young or old or other vulnerable people, said Church.
Foster Farms said safety and quality are its priorities, and there is no recall related to the salmonella announcement.
“Since 2005, testing results for salmonella from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food Safety and Inspection Service in the Pacific Northwest have consistently been well below the limits set for raw poultry. This indicates that our Pacific Northwest facilities maintained consistent process control for salmonella,” the company said in a statement.
Foster Farms and health officials are all urging consumers to separate raw poultry from other foods in the shopping cart with plastic bags. Don’t let drippings from chicken or packaging contaminate cutting boards or other surfaces in the kitchen. And, cook chicken to 165 degrees to kill the bacteria.
There were a total of 56 salmonella Heidelberg infections in 2012 in Oregon — 13 in an addition to the strain linked to Foster Farms. That compares with an average of 27 for the five previous years, the Oregon Health Authority said.
Salmonella accounts for 600 to 800 cases of foodborne illness each year in Washington, the state Health Department said.
The Yakima Health District reported 26 cases in 2012, compared to 18 and 54 during the same periods in 2011 and 2010, respectively. That is the total number regardless of the strain.
The agency investigates all reported salmonellosis cases with a two-pronged approach, said Marianne Patnode, the agency’s supervisor of communicable disease services.
DNA samples of the bacteria are collected from patients and then tested at a state labratory, which reports the results to a national database.
Patients are also interviewed by county health officials, who ask questions like their contact with animals, how they prepare food, restaurants where they dined and recent travel in an effort to identify common sources, she said.
There have been no salmonella cases linked to Foster Farms in Washington this year, but laboratories are still watching for it, Church said.
State health officials said they are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track salmonella and with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to work with Foster Farms.
• Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Dan Catchpole contributed to this report.