Two recent outbreaks of salmonellosis in Minnesota with a total of 29 cases have been linked to frozen, pre-browned, single-serving, microwaveable stuffed chicken entrees. These are the third and fourth outbreaks of salmonellosis in Minnesota linked to these types of products since 1998.
In March 2006, the USDA issued a limited recall in response to the identification of the outbreak. However, epidemiologists have found that new cases of illness continue to occur.
The findings prompted the officials to urge consumers to make sure that all raw poultry products are handled carefully and cooked thoroughly, and to strongly discourage the use of the microwave to cook raw chicken products.
"The frozen chicken entrees in these outbreaks are breaded, pre-browned and individually wrapped, so it’s likely most ill consumers mistakenly assumed they have been pre-cooked," said MDA dairy and food inspection director Kevin Elfering. "Although the wrapper includes instructions to fully cook the product, some consumers might have overlooked that information and simply heated it in a microwave."
Even though these products are labeled as microwaveable, both the MDA and the MDH strongly advise against cooking these products in the microwave. Microwaves vary in strength and tend to cook products unevenly; therefore, they are not appropriate for the primary preparation of raw meat and poultry. Additionally, the cooking instructions for many of these products may not be sufficient for killing Salmonella; therefore, consumers should ensure that they have fully cooked the products before eating them.
"Salmonellosis outbreaks due to this type of product keep occurring, despite public notifications, so it is time to take more stringent action," Elfering said. State officials have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider requiring individually wrapped, breaded, raw chicken products to include more prominent label information clearly stating they are raw products.