More Chicken Drama: Super Salmonella Lands in Our Kitchens

Chicken and Broccoli on Separate Cutting Boards
Getty Images
Even if you don't know what "salmonella" is, if you cook chicken, you're watching out for it. It's the bacteria most commonly associated with food poisoning from poultry -- which makes it a big part of the reason home cooks are cautioned to disinfect surfaces, prepare and serve food on different plates, and make sure that chicken is cooked all the way through. Recently, those standard warnings have gained fresh relevance as a new outbreak of especially virulent salmonella has been reported in the U.S. food supply.

In other words, if you like to eat chicken, this might be a good time to reconsider what kind you buy, where you buy it from, and how you prepare it.

Given how much effort we go through to avoid it, the actual danger presented by traditional salmonella is surprisingly small. The nasty little bacteria causes an estimated 80 deaths per year in the U.S., largely among people who are already immune-compromised. And, while salmonella causes thousands of food poisoning cases each year, the majority are minor: Only about 20 percent of victims require a hospital visit.

But the new outbreak, which has been given the name salmonella Heidelberg, is especially virulent. Of the 338 reported cases, 42 percent have required hospitalization, more than twice the usual level. And 15 percent of victims have developed blood infections, compared with a usual rate of around 5 percent. To make things worse, several strains of salmonella Heidelberg are antibiotic-resistant, which complicates treatment.

The recent budget madness in Washington has been another factor helping Heidelberg along. Normally, the Centers for Disease Control often uses PulseNet, a network of laboratories, to track outbreaks like this one. Unfortunately, PulseNet was closed for two weeks on October, shut down along with the rest of the government's "non-essential" services.

Complicating matters further is that, while the infected poultry was largely produced by California-based Foster Farms, a chicken processing company, it has been sold under a variety of names and in a variety of forms. Costco, for example, has recalled thousands of pounds of rotisserie chicken, rotisserie chicken parts, chicken soups, wings, and other products -- many of which were sold under its in-house Kirkland brand. Kroger (KR) has also had massive recalls.

So what can you do? This would be a good time to pick a different entree, especially if you live in California, where most of the cases have been reported. If you can't bear to take the versatile birds out of your diet, you might want to shift to organic or free-range chickens. Or, at a minimum, stay away from rotisserie chicken until the CDC informs us that this outbreak has passed.

In a broader sense, though, this might be a good incentive to examine where your chicken comes from. After all, this is only the latest in a series of poultry problems, and more are on the horizon. Between chickens from China, cutbacks in USDA inspections, recent revelations about the unappetizing ingredients in chicken nuggets, and the discovery of arsenic in our chicken, there are plenty of reasons to give factory-raised birds the boot.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Building Credit from Scratch

Start building

View Course »

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Wasn't it the bible that said that in the latter days we will see illness as never before and that famine will hit the land. What a way to leave this earth. The china imported chicken jerky kills the dog population and the china imported birds kill the human race. Is there hope for this Nation? As a protest we should shower Congress and the WH with chickens instead of organizing a tea party.

October 25 2013 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just think, China will be allowed to export their chicken products to the USA.

Bon appetit

October 25 2013 at 8:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chief Big Dick

The hard part is living!!!!!!!

October 25 2013 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All you need to do is microwave the rotisserie chicken before you eat it... just in case it was not heated to the proper internal temperature when Costco roasted it. It might be antibiotic resistant, but proper cooking still kills it.

October 25 2013 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

and soon your chicken will come from china.
- a warning from our canine friends.

October 25 2013 at 12:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Hey! Why don't we keep defunding our food inspector agencies so the big $ corps can keep shoving bad food down everyone's throat.
After all, it's money that counts regardless of peoples lives and health.

Harris Glasser

October 24 2013 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

super salmonella - yea - its called typhoid - cook your chicken and don't worry about it

October 24 2013 at 6:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Yesterday I had just read about how Tyson is now raising chickens in China. Then I went to the store and noticed a new brand of dog treats called Nudges. With Made in USA prominently displayed along with the flag, I turned it over to see if it looked safe. You guessed it, guess what the name of the chicken supplier was? Tyson. No thanks, I'll continue to make the homemade food and treats for my dogs. Just thought this information may help someone else out there.

October 24 2013 at 5:44 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Got Salmonella +4 back in 98 don't ever want to go through that again. Health Dept told me +5 and you are dead.

October 24 2013 at 5:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Californians strike again

October 24 2013 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply