The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) closure of a Foster Farms plant in Livingston, CA this week is “long overdue,” say Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY). The plant is one of three that have been linked to a multi-state Salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people since October, but it was cockroach infestation that triggered the closure.
Foster Farms did not issue a recall after cases of Salmonella poisoning were linked to chicken produced at the plant. Nor did the company issue a recall when, earlier in 2013, chicken produced at other Foster Farms plants was linked to another multi-state Salmonella outbreak.
On October 7, the USDA issued a health alert about the chicken and some retailers removed it form store shelves. That same day, the agency sent a letter to the three Foster Farms plants associated with the outbreak threatening to close them because of conditions found at the plants including: poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary non food contact surfaces, fecal material on carcasses and “direct product contamination.” Three days later, the agency said the plants could remain open because the company had a plan to fix the problems.
As of December 19, the most current update on the outbreak available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 416 people in 23 states had been sickened by chicken contaminated with antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella. Forty percent of them, twice the average, have required hospitalization including one child who needed brain surgery as a result of the infection.
DeLauro and Slaughter said, “this day is long overdue,” in a joint statement about the closure of the plant. “The evidence that Foster Farms chicken has sickened over 500 people is overwhelming. Earlier action by USDA could have saved many families the heartache of seeing their loved ones suffer.
“USDA has said they did not have the authority to shut down Foster Farms, despite repeated outbreaks. We are exploring options to ensure they have clear authority to do so, instead of hoping they find filth before they can shut down a plant they already know is a problem. Change must be made to protect Americans.”
DeLauro is the former chair of the subcommittee responsible for funding the USDA. Slaughter, the senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee, is a microbiologist who has worked to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance by curbing the overuse of antibiotics in food animals.