KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A recent outbreak ofSalmonellaHeidelberg in 18 states has galvanized poultry industry stakeholders' efforts to reassure consumers that chicken is safe to eat if handled properly and cooked to a safe temperature.

The US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert after an estimated 278 illnesses were reported in 18 states, mostly in California. The investigation revealed Foster Farms brand chicken and other chicken produced at Foster Farms' facilities in central California as the likely source of the outbreak. In a statement, the California Chicken Council emphasized that the federal government shutdown has not affected FSIS practices at California poultry facilities.

"Millions of pounds of poultry have been safely produced and consumed in California in 2013," the council said. "There is no recall involved with the recent USDA-issued alert regarding the increased incidence of Salmonella illnesses caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled chicken.

"This alert is a reminder to the public of the importance of following food safety and handling practices when preparing raw poultry."

The National Chicken Council and the Partnership for Food Safety Education are providing consumers with proper handling and cooking guidelines.

"It is always important to consistently follow safe food handling and cooking practices because all raw agricultural products – whether its produce, fruit, meat or poultry – could contain naturally occurring bacteria that might make someone sick," said Tom Super, NCC spokesman. "But, there are steps people can take in the home to significantly reduce their risk."

Consumers with food safety questions can access "Ask Karen", the FSIS virtual food safety resource available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. Consumers also can download free food safety information from the Partnership for Food Safety Education website atwww.fightbac.org.