Salmonella poisoning has sickened more than 300 people in 17 states since March.
But the USDA will not force a recall of the chicken that is causing the illness. In fact, many stores are still selling it.
Why? Because the USDA and many retailers maintain salmonella can be killed when chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
But when's the last time you checked the internal temp of your chicken burger? And is it the consumer's responsibility to test all their chicken with a cooking thermometer? I toured a handful of Northern California retailers and found store shelves full of "fresh chicken" from the three California processing plants that are linked to this year's outbreak.
Let's be clear. This is not just a problem with Foster Farms chicken, although their name is most frequently in the news lately.
The UDSA Food Safety and Inspection Service warns the plant codes to watch out for are P-6137, P-6137A and P-7632.
Those plant codes have been spotted under a number of labels, including Eating Right, Kirkland Signature, O Organics, Open Nature, Ralphs, Safeway Farms, and Simple Truth Organic.
I also found the plant code on Master Cuts pack of chicken, which is sold at Save Mart Supermarkets.
Joseph Porter, manager at the Save Mart in Capitola, CA, said that as long as there is no recall, Save Mart will stock the product.
"Save Mart did the research on it," he said. "If the USDA came through and said take it off the shelves, we would."
My local Safeway was stocked with potentially tainted chicken cuts from the three suspect plants as well -- the plant codes on the labels show they originated in the same plants tied to the salmonella outbreak. And the chicken is sold under a variety of labels, including Safeway's own Safeway Farms, O Organics and Eating Right brands. There was also plenty of Foster Farms chicken available.
Teena Massingill, a spokesperson for Safeway, cited the lack of recall in the reasoning to continue stocking chicken from the processing plants connected with the outbreak.
"We rely on information and guidance from the USDA," she said in an email. "Neither the USDA nor any other government agency has called for a recall."
She added that the California Department of Public Health issued a press release stating, "with proper handling and preparation, this product is safe for consumption."
Nob Hill, part of the Raley's chain of stores, also stocks the potentially tainted chicken and responded similarly.
"It is important to note that the USDA has not issued a recall but, rather, a public health alert," said Nicole Townsend, a Nob Hill spokesperson, in an email. "Because we wanted to share this information with our customers, we provided details about the public health alert at the point of sale in our stores immediately on Oct. 8, detailing safe handling and cooking instructions."
The sign in question is posted at knee level and does not contain any information that would lead a consumer to understand the chicken is potentially dangerous. The "Because We Care" sign does not include the word "salmonella" anywhere on it. Nor does it mention the chicken processing plant numbers in question are the ones specifically on the chicken packaged for sale.
But some stores are taking the initiative and pulling fresh chicken from shelves. Costco stores in California yanked Foster Farms chickens from shelves. And a Target employee at one Bay Area store said all the chicken had been pulled because of the potential for contamination.
In the end, it's up to the consumer to protect themselves. Know where your chicken comes from and how to safely cook your chicken. Look at the processing plant codes that are on the stickers on fresh chicken. (See the photo above).
If you have purchased food with a harmful plant label on it, return it.
As a general rule, cook your chicken to at least 165 degrees F, according to Health and Human Services. That goes for reheating leftovers, too.
If chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, salmonella bacteria will be killed.
But it's frustrating that stores continue to sell chicken that could be potentially harmful to their customers. If the USDA won't recall a product, retailers should act as another line of protection for consumers.