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WASHINGTON -- The Agriculture Department says three California poultry processing facilities linked to a salmonella outbreak in raw chicken can stay open, for now.

In a statement Thursday, the USDA said Foster Farms, which owns the facilities, has made, quote, immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations.

The department threatened earlier this week to shut down the plants if Foster Farms did not prove that it had made enough changes. Sampling by the USDA in September showed that raw chicken processed by those facilities included strains of salmonella that were linked to the outbreak that has sickened 278 people in 17 states.

The department said government inspectors will monitor the company's improvements and sample Foster Farms meat for the next three months.

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