As the investigation continues into what made nearly 300 people -- including five in Fresno County -- sick with salmonella Heidelberg, experts and health officials remind consumers to be diligent about food safety and to report any suspected bacteria-related illnesses to their doctor.
Federal officials issued a public health alert on Monday over concerns that the illnesses were caused by salmonella associated with raw chicken products produced at three Foster Farms poultry plants. Two of those plants are in Fresno, the third is in Livingston.
Although the 278 illnesses were reported in 18 states, a majority -- 213 -- were in California and five were in Fresno County, local health officials said. It was not immediately known if there were other cases in the San Joaquin Valley.
Joe Prado, manager of the Fresno County Community Health division, urged anyone who may be feeling ill to see their doctor. Common symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.
"If people are getting sick they need to see their doctor," Prado said.
Poultry expert Michelle Ganci, professor of animal science for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State, said that one way to prevent food-borne illnesses is to follow simple food-safety guidelines at home.
"Because salmonella is naturally occurring in the environment you have to thoroughly cook poultry," she said. "This is not a new thing to us."
Ganci recommends using a meat thermometer, make sure the juices run clear when cutting into poultry and use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods such as fruits and vegetables. Poultry should also be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.
"Salmonella is in our world, that is the reality," said Ganci, who founded the poultry production program at Fresno State in 2005. "But we can totally eradicate it by cooking it to the right temperature."
The federal Food Safety and Inspection Service's health alert targeted Foster Farms chicken with one of these stamps on the label:
The FSIS said it has not been able to link recent illnesses to a specific product or production period.
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