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Feds threaten to close Calif. poultry plants linked to salmonella outbreak

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department is threatening to shut down three California poultry-processing facilities linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 278 people nationwide.

The USDA said on Wednesday that Foster Farms, owner of the three facilities, has until Thursday to tell the department how it will fix the problem. The company was notified on Monday.

Sampling by the USDA in September showed that raw chicken processed by those facilities included strains of salmonella linked to the outbreak. The company has not recalled any of its products.

No chickens from the plant have been shipped to Pennsylvania, according to state departments, and no illnesses have been reported in Allegheny County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring 30 other clusters of food-borne illnesses, none in Pennsylvania. Thee national staff at the agency, though, has been scaled back, and all work on preventing outbreaks has stopped, according to a spokesman.

In a letter to Foster Farms, the USDA said those samples, coupled with illnesses, suggest that the sanitary conditions at the facility “could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health.”

The first illnesses in the outbreak were reported in March, and the outbreak has had a high rate of hospitalizations. The CDC said 42 percent of victims were hospitalized — about double the normal rate — and the strain is resistant to many antibiotics, making for a more severe outbreak.

The Agriculture Department can halt production by withdrawing meat inspectors. Yudhbir Sharma of the USDA said Foster Farms has failed to demonstrate that it has adequate controls in place to address the salmonella issue.

He said that in one of the facilities, 25 percent of the samples taken were positive for salmonella.

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