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Food-safety hampered by government shutdown

10/09/2013 @ 3:36pm

A salmonella outbreak from chicken is highlighting the risk that the partial government shutdown could make it harder to detect and track foodborne illnesses, government and private food-safety experts say.

At least 278 people have been sickened in 18 states from raw chicken produced at three California sites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service this week issued a notice that the illnesses were linked to three Foster Farms sites, and said it was investigating along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foster Farms, of Livingston, Calif., said that no recall is in effect, and that only raw chicken is involved in the cases caused by salmonella Heidelberg bacteria. The company said such bacteria can be eradicated if the chicken is properly handled and sufficiently cooked.

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said the agency's skeletal staffing during the government shutdown hampered its analysis of the salmonella cases.

"We were monitoring 30 outbreak clusters, and it became overwhelming" to the agency's reduced staff, she said.

The CDC has a system of identifying bacteria and gauging the scope of an outbreak. The system, known as PulseNet, conducts DNA fingerprinting tests on samples to verify which cases are related. But Ms. Reynolds said the CDC had only one person, instead of the usual eight, doing data analysis on PulseNet until recently. Now the agency has brought people back in to work on the outbreak, she said.

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