A salmonella outbreak stretching across four states sickening 17 people and resulting in one death has been linked to a popular brand of kosher chicken, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since last September, cases have been reported in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York — where the death occurred.
The CDC said that several of the people who got sick reported eating Empire Kosher brand chicken, and the the strain also was identified in raw chicken collected from a facility that processes for the brand.
No recall has been issued.
“We are not advising people to avoid eating kosher chicken or Empire Kosher brand chicken because there are steps that can be taken to make the product safe to eat,” CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes told NPR. “People can certainly make individual decisions on what type of chicken to eat based on the outbreak information that has been shared.”
Proper precautions include cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, washing hands with warm soapy, water for 20 seconds after handling, and thoroughly washing any surface or item that comes into contact with the raw meat.
The CDC also advises people not to wash raw chicken, which can cause the juices to splash and spread germs. (Here is a handy chart for safely cooking meats.)
Despite the simple steps, the CDC estimates that salmonella still sickens more than one million in the U.S. every year.
Americans, who eat more chicken than any other meat, should assume that all of it could be harboring salmonella before it is cooked, Haynes said.
Salmonella, a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of animals and humans, is shed in feces. When an animal is butchered the feces may get onto the meat.
Common symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which occur between 12 hours and three days after the infection and can last up to a week.
Most people recover without treatment and with no lasting impact, but the very old, very young and those with weakened immune symptoms are more susceptible to complications. Some 450 people die each year from salmonella poisoning, the CDC says.
The CDC says the outbreak linked to Empire Kosher brand appears to have ended in June. Still, the risk may not be over.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a public health alert “out of an abundance of caution,” saying it is concerned that some of the contaminated meat — including raw whole chicken and chicken parts — could remain in people’s freezers.
In a statement, Empire Kosher said it was cooperating fully with food safety officials.
“We take food safety and the health of our consumers very seriously, and any illness even potentially linked to our products is unacceptable,” the company said. “We continue to very aggressively work to ensure the quality and safety of our products.”
Kosher foods adhere to Jewish dietary laws, which in the case of meat includes a ritualistic slaughter of the animal. Certified kosher products also have gained a reputation for being more healthful and safer than other foods, and only about 8 percent of kosher consumers are religious Jews according to Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food.
But as Berkeley Wellness notes, little published research establishes an actual difference in the safety between kosher and nonkosher foods.