This is the second recall of frozen chicken this week … so far. (Photo: Getty Images)
Aspen Foods is recalling nearly 2 million pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed, and breaded chicken that may be contaminated with salmonella, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Services announcement.
The recall comes after the USDA received reports of three people in Minnesota who became sick from mid-April to late June after eating Aspen products.
The products in question include chicken Cordon Bleu, chicken with broccoli and cheese, chicken Kiev, chicken Parmesan, and buffalo-style chicken. All have the code “P-1358” in the USDA inspection mark.
The products may be labeled under the following brands:
Aspen’s recall comes just days after a near-identical recall by Barber Foods of more than 1.7 million pounds of similar products.
That recall occurred after the USDA received reports that people in Minnesota and Wisconsin became sick during the same time period after eating Barber products.
Nearly 30 products are included in the Barber recall, which may be labeled under the brands Barber Foods, Sysco, or Meijer. (A full list of the products, along with their UPC codes, can be found here.)
Barber also had an original recall on July 2, in which the brand recalled more than 58,000 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed chicken. The product in question was Barber Foods Premium Entrees Breaded-Boneless Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rib Meat Kiev, with use by/sell by dates of April 28, 2016, May 20, 2016 and July 21, 2016.
Two additional people who became ill have been identified by the USDA since the original Barber recall, prompting the new announcement.
The particular strain of salmonella that has infected people — salmonella enteritidis — can cause fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea that begins 12 to 72 hours after a person eats contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms usually last four to seven days, and can make a person sick enough to require hospitalization. Elderly people, children, and those who are immune-compromised are especially at risk.
Food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor at North Carolina State University who has studied how people handle raw, frozen, stuffed, and breaded chicken products, tells Yahoo Health that the products are especially risky when it comes to salmonella.
Why? Because of the way the products appear, people assume that they’re already cooked — and don’t cook them fully as a result. “We have a responsibility to tell people that they need to cook these products properly,” he says. “I don’t think we do a good job of it.”
His research discovered that, despite the fact that the products are properly labeled, only a small percentage of people actually use a food thermometer to make sure their chicken is thoroughly cooked, as recommended. Consequently, they’re at risk of contracting salmonella from the meat.
But why is such a large amount of chicken affected at once? According to Mike Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, it’s all in the way the chicken is prepared before packaging.
“The chickens get put into a bath that’s chlorinated, but sometimes salmonella gets trapped in the skin and gets into the water,” he tells Yahoo Health. “It’s not surprising that that much chicken might become contaminated.”
Unfortunately, freezing doesn’t kill salmonella. The pathogen won’t multiply when it’s frozen, but it will be preserved. So, when you take a frozen chicken product out of the freezer, it can still be contaminated.
Doyle says that proper cooking — bringing the meat’s temperature to 165 degrees — will kill the salmonella, but the real risk is in cross-contamination.
“If you thaw the chicken, the juices can contain salmonella,” he says. “And if you thaw the chicken on a plate, cook it, and put the chicken on the same plate, it’s been contaminated.” Doyle also notes that you can get salmonella on your hands after handling the chicken, which can then be transferred to anything you touch.
The USDA reports that some people who became sick had properly cooked the chicken and used a food thermometer to confirm that it was properly cooked. That’s a sign that cross-contamination was an issue, says Doyle.
The USDA stresses that while the products seem to be cooked, they’re actually raw and should be handled with care to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. That means washing your hands and any surfaces after handling them, and keeping the chicken away from other food that won’t be cooked.
If you have any of these products in your freezer, it’s safest to just throw them out. “I wouldn’t handle it,” says Chapman. “Send it back, take it to the seller, or get rid of them.”
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