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Food Safety: Some Costco Kirkland Brand Chicken is Foster Farms


Reuters is reporting close to 300 people have become ill from Foster Farms chicken products contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg. My usual response to this sort of thing is a quick look at the various government agencies tasked with food safety to get a handle on what's actually going on.

The Centers for Disease Control swear they are on the job but the latest Foster Farms related information from them seems to be this update on a salmonella outbreak published in July. This seems like a similar incident from a year ago; it says the outbreak seems to be over. Hmmm. That is not this. or maybe it is. In any case, guess this is not their first time at the rodeo.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is closed and grandstanding about politics. Let's just ignore them for now...

Food Safety and Inspection Services returns a 404.

This isn't getting any better. Lets try the manufacturer, surely 278 sick people is worthy of a voluntary recall.

Foster Farms is not recalling any of their chicken, handing off responsibility to the consumer with the advice to Just Heat It. "No Recall is in Effect. Products are Safe to Consume if Properly Handled and Fully Cooked." I don't know about you but I am not a fan of cooking the bacteria out of "likely to be bad" meat.

In the midst of the confusing information about contaminated, but not recalled, chicken that as safe to eat as long as I don't screw it up (how is this about us not Foster Farms?) I felt safe because I mostly buy house-brand chicken at Costco. That warm glow lasted about a minute before fading, leaving me with one big question:

Who produces Costco's Kirkland brand chicken?

A quick check of my freezer turned up a bag of skinless, boneless chicken breasts with a Foster Farms plant number on it. Yikes!

Pretty sure I had my answer, I called my local Costco in Warrenton, Oregon. Chris Delong, the General Manager assured me that Costco was aware of the problem with Foster Farm chicken. He also verified that, yes, the chicken breasts in my freezer had a Foster Farms plant number because they were produced there. (They have a book where they can discover such things. I want to see that book.)

Even though there is no official recall, Costco is accepting returns of chicken from the listed plants for a refund. This is true for both Foster Farms and Kirkland brand products. The chicken is not listed on their recall list but I would expect it to turn up there shortly.

If you have frozen chicken from Costco, do this:

  1. Check the package for the plant number. On whole chickens, it's on the little metal band that seals the bag. On bags, it's a bit of black type printed (usually sideways) on an otherwise unmarked part of the bag.
  2. If your chicken has P6137, P6137A, or P7632 on the bag or tag, don't eat it. Or cook it until it tests at least 165° with an Instant-Read Thermometer.
  3. If you want to return it, take it back to your local Costco. If you have a reciept that's great and helpful but they have computers that know what you ate last summer and where you bought the food. Remember, they are accepting returns of both Foster Farms and Kirkland brand chicken that was packaged at one of the listed plants.

If you are lacking frozen chicken and feeling left out of the fun, the government's food safety site has a big list of recalls and alerts. There are updates as recent as today but nary a mention of the salmonella chicken.

As I was about to publish this, a twitter conversation with @oceansresearch led me to the actual Food Safety and Inspection Services release. It includes the symptoms of salmonella, lest we forget: "The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days." Sounds just lovely.

Do me a favor. There are a limited number of chicken producers and Foster Farms may well make other store's products. Check any chicken you have that is not verifiably from someone other than Foster Farms for the plant number. If you have some, call your store and ask about refunds. You know what they say: Better to be safe than puking your guts out.

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