ATLANTA – In the last six months, 92 individuals across 29 states were infected with a multidrug-resistant strain of Salmonella Infantis linked to raw chicken products, but public health officials have not pinpointed a single supplier, product, brand or processing facility behind the outbreak.

Of the 92 case patients, 21 have been hospitalized, the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reported. However, no deaths have been reported.

Case patients interviewed as part of an ongoing food safety investigation reported eating different types and brands of chicken products purchased from many different locations, according to the CDC. And epidemiological and laboratory evidence indicates many types of raw chicken products are contaminated with the outbreak strain and making people sick.

“The outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis has been identified in samples from raw chicken pet food, from raw chicken products from 58 slaughter and/or processing establishments, and from live chickens,” CDC said in its report. “Samples collected at slaughter and processing establishments were collected as part of FSIS’s routine testing under the Salmonella performance standards.

“Furthermore, WGS [whole-genome sequencing] showed that the Salmonella from these samples is closely related genetically to the Salmonella from ill people,” the report continued. “This result provides more evidence that people in this outbreak got sick from handling or eating raw or undercooked chicken.”

The CDC added that antibiotic resistance testing on Salmonella bacteria isolated from case patients indicated that the outbreak strain is resistant to multiple antibiotics including ampicillin, streptomycin and ciprofloxacin among others.

In response to the investigation, the National Chicken Council said the chicken industry is cooperating with the CDC and the US Dept. of Agriculture in the investigation.

“Food safety is the top priority for companies that produce and process chicken in the United States, and the industry prides itself on an excellent track record of delivering safe, affordable and nutritious food both domestically and abroad,” said Tom Super, NCC spokesman. “Americans eat about 160 million servings of chicken every day, and virtually all of them are eaten safely. We take the safety of chicken very seriously — our families eat the same chicken as you and yours.

“Though we’ve collectively made tremendous progress in reducing Salmonella, the fact is raw chicken is not sterile, and any raw agricultural product, whether its fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, meat or poultry, is susceptible to naturally occurring bacteria that could make someone sick if improperly handled or cooked.”

The CDC and NCC encouraged proper handling of raw chicken, which includes handwashing and thorough cooking. Consumers also are advised to thoroughly clean counters, cutting boards and utensils after they touch raw chicken. Finally, CDC does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets.