OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Health officials in Washington and Oregon say an outbreak of salmonella illness is linked to Foster Farms chicken, one of the most popular brands in the Northwest.

The Oregon Health Authority said there were 43 cases last year in Oregon, and the Washington Health Department said there were at least 56 linked to a specific strain of the bacteria called salmonella Heidelberg.

Fifteen people sickened in Washington were hospitalized. There were no deaths.

Foster Farms says in a statement that safety and quality are priorities. There is no recall.

At Cook's World in Seattle, owner and chef Nancie Brecher says it can be easy to blame the brand of chicken involved in the recall, but we shouldn't.

It's easy to get sick from raw chicken, so it's not surprising, she said. I think the public, though, has to get educated on how to handle chicken in a more safe way, so that they don't get sick. The control is ultimately in the hands of the person cooking the patrol.

It's something she teaches and preaches to each one of her cooking students.

The way I teach my students to handle it safely is to contain it, she said.

That process starts at the grocery store. Keep raw poultry separate from other foods in your shopping cart and grocery bags. That will help avoid cross-contamination.

When you get the chicken home, Brecher recommends putting it in a bowl when you defrost it.

You also need to pay attention to your hands, because your hands are touching the chicken. So you can't, just because the chicken is isolated, go over to the faucet and turn it on. Then you've contaminated the faucet.

The health department and Foster Farms offer similar advice.

They say the illnesses announced on Thursday are a reminder to consumers to take care in handling and cooking chickens. Salmonella is common on all chicken, not just Foster Farms products, and cross contamination is possible, for example, if salad lettuce touches the same cutting board as raw chicken.

Foster Farms also reminds consumers that products should be prepared according to package guidelines and cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees to guarantee it's been fully cooked.

If customers have any questions or concerns, the company suggests calling the Foster Farms Consumer Hotline at 800-338-1107.

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