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2 million pounds of frozen chicken products recalled

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Aspen Foods is recalling nearly 2 million pounds of frozen chicken products after three people in Minnesota became ill with infections from salmonella.

The recall includes breaded, raw stuffed chicken breasts that were manufactured from April 15 to July 10, according to an announcement Wednesday from the Department of Agriculture.

The varieties affected include cordon bleu, broccoli and cheese, chicken Kiev, chicken parmesan and buffalo-style. Packages subject to the recall can be identified by the code “P-1358” in the USDA’s inspection mark.

Aspen’s recall follows a move by Barber Foods, which expanded its own poultry recall Sunday to 1.7 million pounds of frozen, raw stuffed chicken products because of reports of salmonella contamination.

Seven people in three states have fallen ill from Barber products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC had previously confirmed six cases in Minnesota and Wisconsin but found a seventh case in Oklahoma, according to Dr. Matthew Wise, the head of CDC’s outbreak response team.

Breaded chicken products can be uniquely problematic because consumers often mistakenly think that they are cooked, Wise said. That can lead to improper preparation and cross-contamination with other items in the kitchen. The USDA has recently tightened labeling requirements to include clearer instructions for such products, he added.

Koch Foods, which owns Aspen Foods, said in a statement that it was cooperating with the federal agencies and instructed customers to return recalled items for refunds.

Salmonella bacteria is most commonly found in poultry but can often be killed at temperatures of 165 degrees. Only one or two of the sick consumers involved in the Aspen and Barber cases mentioned using a microwave, Wise said.

“I don’t think that in this outbreak we’ve seen quite as much evidence of improper cooking of the product than we have in past outbreaks,” he added.

Barber Foods, a division of AdvancePierre Foods, recalled about 58,000 pounds of chicken July 2 after four people became sick, and expanded that recall on July 12 after two more cases were confirmed. The company’s plant in Portland, Maine, is still operating with USDA supervision, according to Laura A. Phillips, a spokeswoman.

In a statement, the company said it was working with the USDA to tighten its safety procedures and had identified the source of the salmonella contamination.

Affected Barber products can be identified with the “P-276” identification code in the USDA mark. They include individually packaged chicken Kiev and cordon bleu entrees.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service division was notified of a cluster of salmonella-related illnesses linked to the Barber products June 24, one day after it became aware of a cluster of illnesses tied to the Aspen Foods recall. Dr. Karen Neil, a medical epidemiologist on the CDC’s outbreak response team, said there was no evidence of a connection between the two outbreaks.

Salmonella infection is one of the most common food-borne illnesses, typically causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 12 to 72 hours of exposure. The bacteria is typically less harmful than listeria and E. coli, and related illnesses last four to seven days. Of the 10 people who became sick from Barber and Aspen products, four have been hospitalized, according to Wise.

Some of the recalled products have been sold in stores nationwide, including Kroger and Wal-Mart. Customers who bought the products at either company can return them for a full refund. Brands associated with the recall include Kirkwood, Roundy’s, Safeway Kitchens and Spartan.

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