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Tainted Chicken Sickens Hundreds of Prisoners, Staff at Pennsylvania BOP Facility

In late June 2011, around 320 prisoners and employees at USP Canaan in Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, became sick due to salmonella poisoning after eating “tainted chicken” used to make fajitas. Four prisoners were ill enough to require treatment at a local emergency room for dehydration.

According to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) spokesperson Lamine N’diaye, the facility’s kitchen was closed for cleaning following the outbreak but reopened after a BOP inspector deemed it safe. Neither N’diaye nor Russell Reuthe, USP Canaan’s human resource manager, would comment on the food or its source, but Reuthe confirmed it was all “wholesale food, prepared on site.”

A Pennsylvania Department of Health official said they were investigating the incident, adding that “we did provide assistance to the facility by taking stool samples and food testing.” According to the same official, all of the food in the kitchen was disposed of following the outbreak.

Salmonella is rarely fatal but can be serious if it spreads to the blood stream or the intestines, where it can cause a form of arthritis. The Associated Press first learned about the outbreak at USP Canaan from the Seattle-based law firm of Marler Clark, which specializes in cases involving food-borne illnesses. Two attorneys from the firm confirmed that families of multiple prisoners had contacted them to report the outbreak.

USP Canaan houses approximately 1,400 prisoners, and includes a 125-bed minimum-security satellite camp. During the salmonella outbreak, meals for the USP were prepared in the satellite camp’s kitchen until the cleanup was complete.

It is not unusual for the BOP to purchase meat such as hamburger and chicken in bulk, then distribute it system-wide to various prisons – indicating that the tainted food may have been sent to other facilities, too.

According to Christine Cronkright of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, no new illnesses were reported after the initial outbreak at UPS Canaan and 90% of the prisoners who became sick had eaten the chicken fajitas. There were no reports of salmonella outside the facility or in the greater Philadelphia area.

By July 20, 2011, operations at USP Canaan were back to normal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reportedly looking into the incident.

Sources: Associated Press, www.

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