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Essay on The Trouble With Chicken Analysis

The Trouble with Chicken, is an hour special that aired on PBS’ Frontline. The special was produced by Rick Young & Anthony Szule, Young also wrote & directed this episode. The correspondent for this episode was David E. Hoffman. The focus of the episode is on poultry & Salmonella bacteria. This paper is my summery & reaction to the film. Noah Craten, an 18 month old from Arizona got sick in October 2013. His mother, Amanda Craten, said her son had a temp of 103. 5 that persisted for weeks. Doctors still had no idea what was wrong.

When they did an MRI the doctor looked at the MRI and he said, “This is an abscess, and it’s growing. We will have to do a craniotomy. ” In a 4 hour surgery they cut from 1 ear to the other & took a piece of his skull out. Days after the surgery doctors had isolated that it was Salmonella Heidelberg. While Salmonella doesn’t usually cause a brain abscess, Salmonella is a virulent virus & in a child with an undeveloped immune system it plants itself in the brain. While it is horrifying when your child is sick & you have no idea why, it is equally horrifying that this outbreak had been going on for a decade.

In the summer of 2004, the local hospitals in Portland, Oregon cases of Salmonella had started to rise. Dr. Emilio DeBess, D. V. M. is an epidemiologist for the department of Oregon Public Health was investigating the outbreak. He went to a local grocery store & bought a variety of chicken to try to isolate the strains that where the causes of these sicknesses. He was trying to isolate Salmonella Heidelberg, & through talking with consumers he was able to track the chicken to Foster Farms. Health officials in Washington had cases that they also traced back to Foster Farms, who is the largest poultry producer on the west coast.

Dr. Paul Cieslak, M. D. the director of Infectious Diseases in the Oregon Public Health Department, said that they started to call this DNA fingerprint the Foster Farms pattern. That summer a man in his 60s contracted Heidelberg & died. DeBess met with Foster Farms in January 2005. During the meeting DeBess showed them proof that the chicken had come from their Kelso, Washington plant. Ultimately, they did not believe they were at fault, but the consumers who had undercooked the meat were at fault.

Federal meat inspectors stepped in to get Foster Farms to claim responsibility for the outbreak that sickened 46 & killed 1, & to reduce the levels of salmonella at their plant. By the spring of 2005, DeBess & his team saw fewer illnesses from salmonella Heidelberg. The Jack in the Box outbreak spurred the USDA to label E. coli 0157 as an “adulterant”, or something not allowed in the meat. The USDA never made this distinction for Salmonella. Bill Marler is a food safety attorney has represented a lot of families that have lost loved ones to Salmonella. There have been 278 Salmonella outbreaks in 41 states, in 1998-2012.

Another poultry supplier, Cargill executive Shane Acosta showed David around the Springdale plant. Cargill processes 48,000 turkeys a day. They had a foodborne outbreak in 2011 that killed 1 & sickened 77 others. The company recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey. Nothing forced them to do a recall, but Cargill’s vice president Mike Robach called for it. Robach admits that they knew of the increase in Salmonella levels, but failed to act quickly. The USDA has a department called the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) that has an inspector in every house in the country.

These inspectors work from laws made over 100 years ago. Which means that they only work from what they can see, smell, or touch. To help combat Salmonella some companies have adopted a cold water bath for the turkeys with a parecetic acid. Since Robach started the occurrence of Salmonella was 70% in the plant, now it is down to 10%. However that has not translated into a decrease in infections, which may indicate the acceptable levels from inspectors is too high. Even if the meat get through the inspectors, the USDA has little authority to pull the meat from the shelves.

In 2012 Heidelberg was back in Oregon. Dr. DeBess expected it to return, again the contamination was traced to Foster Farms, one in the Kelso plant & another of Foster Farms plants. This strain had gone up to 120 cases associated with it, it started showing up in other states, & was much more resistant to antibiotics. With the amount of infections state health officials started pushing for FSIS to make Foster Farms clean up the contamination. All state officials could do was warn people about improperly cooked chicken. This is the strain that eventually sickened Noah Craten.

Noah’s mother was angry that Foster Farms knew there was an issue & did not recall their chicken. While Noah is getting better, the Craten’s are pursuing legal action against Foster Farms. We join a CDC meeting were they are tracking 25 different illness clusters, one E. coli, one Listeria, one Campylobacter & 22 Salmonella. Robert Tauxe, M. D. , M. P. H. the deputy director of foodborne diseases at the CDC said that this outbreak put at least 40% of those who became sick went into the hospital. Dr. David Goldman M. D. is the assistant administrator of the FSIS is the point person for food borne outbreaks.

FSIS inspectors usually only monitored the whole chickens. From 2010 to 2013 more than 500 samples were taken with no Salmonella found, yet people were still getting sick. This was due to most of FSIS test samples being from whole chickens, while chicken parts is what carried the virus. Most testing & regulation is on the whole chicken. This is a problem because e 80% of the chicken is sold as chicken parts. The process of cutting can release Salmonella in the skin. Recently, FSIS started to test Foster Farms chicken parts & found 1 in 4 to be contaminated.

Based off of this they started testing chicken parts at the factories. They found 3 of the factories had approximately 25% of chicken parts that had high levels of Salmonella. Even with FSIS test results they cannot call for a recall on the meat because they hadn’t been able to establish a direct link to the outbreak. Soon they thought they had found their link. In September of 2013, in San Jose, CA, Rick Schiller had gotten sick. He by chance had an unopened package of chicken in his freezer, bought the same time as the one that had made him sick.

The strain was not the one that caused the illness, so again no recall was warranted. Caroline Smith Dewaal from the Center For Science In The Public Interest, does not believe that direct connection is needed for a recall. The fact that the virus was found at the plant is enough proof. Without the authority to ask for a recall FSIS issued a public health alert about the dangers of Foster Farms chicken. In the end Foster Farms did shut down, but not for causing this foodborne outbreak, but for a cockroach infestation.

Tom Vilsack is the secretary of agriculture & is ultimately in charge of meat safety. He believes that shutting down Foster Farms would not have prevented the illness of over 600 people from food poisonings. He claims that he does not have the authority to change Salmonella to an adulterant, there by being able to shut a place down when finding it. US Representative Rosa DeLauro (D) from Connecticut asked why Vilsack doesn’t simply ask for the authority. A question to wich he never adequately replies to. Jennifer Robinson is very careful about cooking her chicken.

Despite all of her precautions, her son, A. J. , went to the hospital with a bloodstream infection. A. J had Salmonella Heidelberg from Foster Farms. This is the case that gave FSIS what they needed. An unopened container of chicken with the same strain that sickened her son. Foster Farms recalled 170 chicken products. At the end the Foster Farms outbreak spread to 29 states & caused 634 people to get ill. I think in the future I will try to pay attention to the health warnings that are issued, because it seems that is the most companies are required to do.

With as many as a million people getting sick from Salmonella per year it’s almost impossible not to know someone who has gotten sick. My mother bought a store made chicken salad & immediately came down with food poisoning. I know it was Salmonella, but it is impossible to know whether it was the chicken itself or the way it was prepared. Her case still got sent to the CDC & recorded. She didn’t eat chicken for 2 years after that. In conclusion, I think company responsibility should govern these companies to the right thing.

I hate to repeat myself in these papers, but it is all about the bottom line. These companies don’t (but they should) care that their product gets people sick. It costs money for increased safety measures that they just don’t want to pay. I just don’t understand how you can think of people getting sick as a number. I also thought government had more control to order recalls on meat, I also think the burden of proof is an insanely redundant process. Overall it was a good film, I thought we had progressed since The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, but in some respects I think we have taken steps backward.

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