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A U.S. Department of Agriculture health alert about an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infection related to raw chicken products has prompted the Defense Commissary Agency to remind patrons to practice proper food safety procedures when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.

“We want our customers to understand the measures they can use at home to prevent salmonella infection,” said Chris Wicker, a public health advisor at DeCA headquarters in Fort Lee, Va. “This means to clean your hands and preparation areas thoroughly; separate raw meat, poultry and seafood when transporting or preparing these items; cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and measure with a food thermometer; and chill food promptly and properly after the meal is over.”

On Oct. 8, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a food safety alert after an estimated 278 salmonella illnesses were reported in 18 states, predominantly in California. DeCA officials are monitoring this situation and will issue a recall if it becomes necessary, Wicker said.

The Centers for disease Control and the USDA-FSIS recommend consumers follow these food safety tips to prevent salmonella infection whenever you handle raw meat, poultry or seafood:

Clean

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to prepare the next item.
  • Food contact surfaces may be sanitized with a freshly made solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.

Separate

  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Cook

  • Cook poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° degrees as measured with a food thermometer.

Chill

  • Chill food promptly and properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours (or one hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees).
  • Contact your health care provider if you think you may have become ill from eating contaminated food.

Symptoms of salmonella infection include: diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most persons recover without treatment. Children younger than 5 years old, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from salmonella infection.

While it is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have salmonella bacteria, it is uncommon for poultry to have multidrug-resistant salmonella bacteria. People who think they have become ill from eating chicken associated with this outbreak should inform their health care provider about this antibiotic resistance.

On Oct. 7, the USDA-FSIS issued a public health alert for chicken products produced at three poultry facilities.

On Oct. 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued advice to consumers regarding a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg.