For the second time this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory linking Foster Farms brand chicken to a salmonella outbreak affecting 278 people in 17 states.
Unlike the July incident, which affected 134 people in 13 states, this outbreak finds the American public at a vulnerable moment, as food monitoring efforts were curtailed due to the furloughs from the partial government shutdown.
The CDC has furloughed 8,754 staff members – two thirds of the agency's workforce – due to the shutdown, according to the agency's contingency plan for a lapse in government funding.
CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can't tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn't shut down. We are less safe.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFriedenCDC) October 2, 2013
Of the 80 foodborne pathogen investigators at the CDC, only two had been on duty during the shutdown, reported The Associated Press.
The agency has brought back nearly a full staff of scientists, including 30 workers to monitor PulseNet, the CDC's foodborne illness network, which had previously only retained one staffer, reported Time.
"Whenever you get in a situation where public health agencies, which are already stretched to begin with, have their funding restricted, things fall through the cracks," Nancy Donley, founder of the advocacy group STOP Foodborne Illness, told Politico.
The CDC had already taken a hit earlier this year when it was forced to cut $285 million from its 2013 budget across all its programs, projects and activities due to sequestration.
The affected products were mainly distributed to stores in California, Oregon and Washington State, reported the CDC. California was home to 77 percent of the cases.
"Food safety is at the very heart of our business," Foster Farms President Ron Foster said in a statement. "It is a continuous process of improvement."
Foster Farms is currently working with the CDC and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service to reduce the instance of salmonella at three of its California facilities, the company said.
Though Foster Farms has not issued a recall, it has advised consumers to ensure safety by keeping raw chicken away from other foods, washing all working surfaces that have touched raw meat and cooking all its poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.