Shoppers unruffled by tainted chicken

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Concerned but confident. That’s the overall attitude of shoppers at the Washington area’s kosher markets — Shalom Kosher in Silver Spring and Moti’s Market in Rockville — to the news that the Centers for Disease Control has identified Empire Kosher chicken as the source for a recent outbreak of salmonella that has led to one death and 17 illnesses, including eight people hospitalized.

After hearing the news, Debra Reiter Panitch of Potomac said she had a conversation with her son, who is preparing a meal for guests, and gave him a lecture about what to do to be safe.

As for this Moti’s customer, she’s “not overly worried.” When cooking poultry, she keeps the area in which she is preparing it clean and makes sure the chicken is completely cooked.

At Shalom’s, Silver Spring’s Melissa Katz echoed the need to assure that the chicken has been properly prepared. (Empire says that chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees.) Katz said she learned about the problem in an email from Shalom’s. She, as was the case in most other customers consulted, has no plans to alter her buying behavior as a result of the salmonella outbreak.

The CDC reported that the food-borne infection has shown up in Maryland (one case), Virginia (one), New York (11) and Pennsylvania (four).

The illnesses began as early as September 2017; the most recent reported one was in June.
The death occurred in New York.

The CDC has not ordered a recall of Empire Kosher chicken, Empire said in a letter to its customers. And it is not advising people to avoid eating that product.

The company is “shocked and saddened” about the death, but claims “it has no data that connects this tragic event to our product.” Empire said it has been “cooperating fully” in the investigation being carried out by CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

Linda Krass of Olney termed the salmonella scare “worrisome.” But, she noted, salmonella sometimes shows up in eggs and people continue to buy and eat them.

Cooking kills the salmonella bacteria, Nancy Zymelman stressed. The Rockville resident probably won’t change her buying habits, but would want to know more details before making a final decision.

Larry Dekelbaum of Shalom’s and Gideon Sasson of Moti’s agreed that their customers probably will not cut back on poultry or meat purchases as a result of the Empire incident.

But both owners said that some customers have expressed concern about the outbreak, and they expect more inquiries.

Dekelbaum said he tells Shalom customers what Empire said in its letter. When questioned, Sasson tells people how to handle food safely and the importance of fully cooking chicken.

He said he hopes “people will be more aware of how they should handle poultry.

“We tell people: ‘Don’t go to the bank after buying a chicken. Take it home and put it in the refrigerator. And if you don’t cook it within 24 hours, put it in the freezer.’ ”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.
Aaron Leibel is a Washington-area writer.

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