OTTAWA, Ontario – Public health officials in Canada have recorded hundreds of laboratory confirmed cases of Salmonella infections linked to raw chicken, including frozen raw breaded chicken products despite efforts at educating the public on safe handling practices.
There have been 419 laboratory confirmed cases of Salmonella illnesses investigated as part of foodborne illness outbreaks across Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Eighty-six individuals were hospitalized. Three people have died, however the agency noted that Salmonella was not the cause of death for two of those individuals, and it was not determined whether Salmonella contributed to the cause of death for the third person.
In response to these outbreaks, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and other federal food safety agencies are collaborating with the Canadian poultry industry to implement measures aimed at reducing Salmonella at the manufacturing and processing levels of production.
In March, CFIA announced new measures that identify Salmonella as a hazard and call for processors to implement modifications that reduce Salmonella to below a detectable amount in products such as chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, chicken strips, popcorn chicken and chicken burgers that are packaged for retail sale. CFIA granted industry a 12-month implementation period to begin immediately.
But the persistent problem of illnesses associated with raw chicken products prompted Canada’s Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health to issue a public statement stressing the importance of proper handling of raw poultry products, including frozen raw breaded chicken.
“We are very pleased that the government of Canada is working with the food manufacturing industry and food retailers to reduce Salmonella in frozen raw breaded chicken products produced on or after April 1, 2019, to below detectable amounts, thereby reducing the risk of illness for everyone who handles or consumes these types of products,” the statement said. “However, until April 1, 2019, and likely for up to a year after this date, frozen raw breaded chicken products containing Salmonella will continue to be in the marketplace and in freezers across the country.
“This is why, collectively, we are stressing the importance of handling and preparing frozen raw breaded chicken products with caution.”
Frozen raw breaded chicken products should be cooked thoroughly according to the package instructions to an internal temperature of at least 74°C (165°F) using a digital food thermometer to ensure the food is at the proper temperature.
Also, handwashing is important before and after handling raw chicken products, and surfaces, dishes and utensils used to prepare and serve them should be washed and sanitized.
“Following this advice when handling, cooking or eating these products will help reduce you and your family’s chance of becoming infected with Salmonella,” the letter stated. “As Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health, we encourage all consumers to be attentive to food safety. We will continue to monitor illnesses and keep you informed of any risks associated with your food.”