SAN FRANCISCO – A law firm is investigating a potential class-action lawsuit against Foster Farms after the company's raw poultry products were linked to a Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that sickened more than 300 people across 20 states.

Girard Gibbs LLP, with offices in San Francisco and New York, is searching for the potential plaintiffs for the case.

“Consumers expect companies to implement and follow safe practices in handling their products,” said Eric Gibbs, an attorney with the firm. “When hundreds of consumers fall ill as a result of eating a company’s contaminated food, consumers expect those responsible to address the injuries they may have caused.”

Forty-two percent of those sickened by the pathogen were hospitalized, an unusually high hospitalization rate for an outbreak, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control. Seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg were linked to Foster Farms poultry; and the CDC said the outbreak strains were resistant to antibiotics used to treat such infections.

Under threat of plant closures by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Foster Farms implemented a number of food-safety interventions at three of its California processing plants that were linked to the outbreak. The company also refuted official claims about antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in its chicken products.

Foster Farms commissioned a study by the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital Microbiology Lab at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to evaluate the antibiotic resistance patterns of the Salmonella Heidelberg found on its chickens, but not human patients.

“The UC Davis study found that the Foster Farms Salmonella Heidelberg samples tested were susceptible to [could be treated by] a number of common antibiotics including those referenced by the CDC including ampicillin; cephalosporins [cefoxitin, ceftiofur and ceftriaxone]; fluoroquinolones, [ciprofloxacin]; as well as others, including amoxicillin, azithromycin, gentamicin, kanamycin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, tetracycline, and trimethoprim-sulfa,” the company said in an overview of its food-safety interventions.