Salmonella Outbreak During Government Shutdown

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You've heard about this whole government-shutdown thing that is going on: GOP wants to get rid of Obamacare -- that piece of legislation passed by majority vote and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court -- so they basically shut down the government over it.

That's OK; the furloughed employees are considered to be "nonessential" anyway. You know, the Environmental Protection Agency (who needs a pesticide regulation anyway?), auto recall inspectors (cars work, don't they?), food inspectors (safe food? Meh).

Turns out the whole lack of food inspectors is causing a bit of an issue, actually. While safety inspectors and food scientists are hanging out, not getting paid, a salmonella outbreak is spreading across the county. No biggie.

See Also: What the Government Shutdown Means for Your Food

According to an article published by Wired, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has reported that about 278 people across 18 states, mostly in California, are ill due to a salmonella outbreak tied to chicken from three plants owned by Forster Farms, a poultry company based in California.

In an emailed notification, the agency said yesterday, "FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period. The outbreak is continuing."

No recall has been issued for the chicken, which has been tainted with traces of Salmonella Heidelberg. Foster Farms claims that the chicken should be fine as long as it's cooked to the proper temperature (165 degrees). If you don't, however, you will probably spend the next week vomiting, with abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fevers, and an overall feeling of wanting to die.

The FSIS and the Centers for Disease Control are working together to manage and monitor the outbreak as well as possible; however, the government shutdown has hindered the agency's ability to operate.

Before the shutdown, a CDC staffer told Wired's Maryn McKenna:

I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations. States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won't be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders.

Meaning the lab work that links cases and determines the severity of the outbreak is not being conducted.

This is the second time this year that the company, Foster Farms, has been linked to an outbreak. According to the CDC, in July, 134 people across 13 states were reported ill from bacteria found in the company's chicken.

Currently, there is no direct tie between the outbreak and the antics in Washington, D.C. -- the company and the outbreak obviously started before the shutdown. But it would be nice to know our inspection agencies are able to properly manage this outbreak and future food-borne bacteria eruptions should they occur.

Hey, we can always dream.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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