An outbreak of salmonella illness in Washington and Oregon also hit Alaska, according to state medical authorities.
Health officials in Washington and Oregon are now linking the salmonella to Foster Farms chicken, sold widely in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. But a farm or plant has not been isolated and no chicken has been recalled.
At least 56 cases in Washington were linked to a specific strain of the bacteria called salmonella Heidelberg during the last 6 months of 2012.
Dr. Brian Yablon of Alaska’s public health department says there were 11 reported cases in the state during the same time period, but most food-borne disease is underreported.
“Usually public health hears about only a small fraction of the actual cases, because you can imagine if you’ve had a GI (gastro-intestinal) illness and otherwise feel okay, a lot of people choose not to go in and see a doctor and just ride it out at home. And if you do go see a provider, a lot of people don’t actually submit stool specimens,” Yablon says.
Yablon says the key is in the handling of raw chicken and cooking it to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees throughout the bird.
Avoiding cross contamination between raw chicken and other products is critical as well.
“In your grocery cart, in your bag, on the cutting board, sink, etc. make sure raw chicken is not touching your produce or other food items. And make sure you’re using good hand washing and surface washing in the kitchen so that you’re not spreading salmonella around or touching your hand to your mouth and consuming raw chicken in that way,” Yablon says.
Dr. Yablon says raw chicken is a commonly known source of the family of bacteria known as salmonella.