Cheesy Chicken & Rice Recall: A Successful Outbreak Investigation

Posted on by Ali S. Khan

Epidemiology curve of number of cases and map of states affected by Salmonella Chester, with background micrograph of salmonella bacteria

I know it is summer when a quick review of our foodborne outbreak watch board shows four multistate outbreak investigations: Salmonella Chester, Salmonella Baildon, Salmonella Hartford, and  E. coli O157 due to contaminated bison meat products. Outbreak investigations play a key role in preventing foodborne diseases and often help public health officials identify areas for improvement in the food industry. The U.S. food production, processing, and distribution system generally provides safe food and numerous options to feed 300 million Americans every day. Occasionally, foodborne outbreaks occur when people eat food that has been contaminated.

The Salmonella Chester outbreak investigation is a really nice example of how actively engaging the food industry leads to both: 1) a more rapid identification of implicated products and the potential contaminated ingredient or faulty process,  and 2) to more rapid voluntary recalls. For the last three years, Dr. Mike Doyle of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety has been hosting a CDC-Food Industry Safe Foods Forum to improve collaborations among food producers and CDC.  The small group consists of the industry leaders in food safety and meets three to four times per year to discuss ways to improve outbreak detection and response, data sharing, and communications.  CDC has developed strong working ties with the participating companies, including ConAgra Foods.

On June 17, 2010, ConAgra Foods announced a precautionary recall of Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Rice single-serve frozen entrees. This precautionary action may have prevented many people from being infected with Salmonella.
On June 17, 2010, ConAgra Foods announced a precautionary recall of Marie Callender's Cheesy Chicken & Rice single-serve frozen entrees. This precautionary action may have prevented many people from being infected with Salmonella.

When a recent case-control study conducted as part of the Salmonella Chester outbreak investigation found that the illness was associated with eating a Marie Callender’s frozen meal, our Foodborne outbreak chief, Ian Williams, was able to quickly call Joan Menke-Schaenzer, ConAgra’s Global Chief Quality Officer, to discuss the findings.  ConAgra Foods immediately announced a precautionary recall of Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken and & Rice frozen entrées based on CDC data and then shared production information with state and local public health departments, CDC, agriculture, and regulatory agencies to shed more light on the possible causes of the outbreak. This was done even before there was laboratory confirmation of Salmonella bacteria in an unopened package of the product.

While any foodborne illness outbreak is unfortunate, this occurrence is an investigative success story.  The investigation was a success in part due to the quick and decisive action taken by ConAgra, as well as the successful collaboration among the many local, state, and federal public health, agriculture, and regulatory agencies involved. The immediate action probably prevented more people from being infected with Salmonella by removing the potentially harmful product from store shelves and consumers’ homes early in the outbreak. However, it is still important for consumers to be vigilant and to learn about the latest recalls. For more information on the recall, see USDA’s announcement. It is also important to continue to follow safe food handling procedures when preparing any food, especially when using a microwave oven.

Posted on by Ali S. KhanTags , , ,

6 comments on “Cheesy Chicken & Rice Recall: A Successful Outbreak Investigation”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    This good work indeed has prevented major outbreak. Compliments should be given to the officers who are vigilant in handling this case. Hopefully all other counties will make this as an example towards better health.

    I really appreciate them for having the investigation successful. For the next few days, though I don’t wish, new outbreak could possibly happen. If that is the case, the authority must investigate for solution rather than information.

    Comments from MAJ Darryl Forest: Student, Intermediate Learning Education, Redstone Arsenal, AL.
    11 June 2011
    Thank you for posting the wonderful article concerning food-borne outbreaks in the United States and the success you had preventing a major event. I am a Public Health Officer in the U.S. Army and with many U.S. stationed abroad. Food -borne outbreaks amongst our military is a constant concern. A large scale food or water-borne outbreak in a condensed deployed military community would prove devastating. Food and water safety monitoring is a 24/7 operation to ensure the safety of our products consumed by military personnel. For the troops in Iraq & Afghanistan they receive the bulk of their food shipments from Europe. During their recent E.coli situation in Europe…certain foods were banned for shipment until the source of the E.coli had been found and taken care of.
    We have strict guidelines on food storage, handling and preparation to try and prevent any such outbreak from happening. In conjunction with the military veterinarians we also carefully monitor food that is being brought in from the local communities…however, if military personnel consumed food from an unapproved source from outside the compound, then it is difficult to locate source. This is usually where the bulk of food-borne illnesses occur, in deployment environments.
    We teach the soldiers on basic hygiene, proper sanitation, appropriate waste disposal etc. Which sometimes isn’t enough, but put up basic health safety tips and brochures/poster are present at all dining facilities, waste repositories, showers and latrines. It is an ongoing battle, but we keep going. The military and civilian public health personnel have an excellent report with each other and exchange a great deal of good public health information and knowledge because what affects one entity usually affects the other.
    Great article and I am looking forward to reading more and hopefully I can contribute to the discussion.
    MAJ Forest

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Page last reviewed: August 3, 2010
Page last updated: August 3, 2010