WASHINGTON — An outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella linked to a California chicken producer continues to sicken people more than a year after it started.
Despite the illnesses, producer Foster Farms has not initiated a recall, and the government has no apparent plans to shut it down.
Officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there were 50 new reported illnesses in the past two months, bringing to 574 the total number of cases in the outbreak.
The outbreak is widespread — victims have come from 27 states and Puerto Rico. There have been no known deaths.
The Department of Agriculture says it is monitoring Foster Farms facilities and that measured rates of salmonella in the company's products have been going down. The department threatened to shut down Foster Farms' facilities last year but let them stay open after the company said it had made immediate changes to reduce salmonella rates.
Food safety advocates say it is long past time to pressure the company for a recall and to shut down production.
"It's very unclear why USDA isn't taking more action to stop the sale of the product and protect the public," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Foster Farms said this week that it has put new measures into place, including tighter screening of birds, improved safety on the farms where the birds are raised and better sanitation in its plants. It suggested that the recent cases may have occurred because the incidence of salmonella increases in the warmer months.
Dealing with outbreaks is nothing new for Foster Farms. The company was linked to salmonella illnesses in 2004 and then again in 2012, before the current outbreak, which started in 2013.
In a letter to Foster Farms last October, the USDA said inspectors had found "fecal material on carcasses," along with "poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary nonfood contact surfaces and direct product contamination."