June 17, 2024

USDA Threatens to Shut Down Foster Farms Facilities

The USDA has sent a letter to Foster Farms, threatening to shut down three of the company’s facilities if significant corrective changes aren’t made by Thursday, October 10, 2013. The company’s products are associated with a Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak, the second this year, that has sickened at least 278 people in 17 states.

Raw Chicken on PaperThe letter states, “This letter serves as an official notification by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Alameda District, of the intent to withhold the marks of inspection and suspend the assignment of inspectors for the Slaughter, Raw Intact and Raw Non Intact processes at your establishment. This action is based on your establishment’s failure to operate in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan, Sanitation Standard Operation Procedures (SSOP) program, and Sanitation Performance Standards (SPS) regulations.

“Your failure to operate in accordance with these regulations at Establishment 6137A in Fresno, California, is evidenced by the fact that multiple poultry products produced by your establishment have been implicated in an ongoing illness outbreak for Salmonella Heidelberg. In addition, your failure to operate in accordance with the abovementioned regulations is evidence by the results of intensified Salmonella verification testing conducted by FSIS over a three week period in September 2013. This intensified testing occurred at multiple Foster Farms establishments, including Establishment 6137A, whereby a high frequency of Salmonella positives and, specifically, a high frequency of one or more outbreak strains of serotype Salmonella Heidelberg were found in your products.”

The government was notified of a Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak cluster with a unique PFGE pattern on July 1, 2013 (but the public was not notified). Since then, public health officials have discovered six additional unique serotypes of Salmonella Heidelberg. Four of the seven serotypes in this particular outbreak are resistant to multiple antibiotics. Of the 207 interviewed case-patients sickened with these bacteria, 80% reported consumption of Foster Farms chicken. A high number of those patients were hospitalized. And, most damningly, multiple Salmonella isolates identified on products made at that facility have the same PFGE patterns as those in the ill persons.

Presence of the outbreak strain of the bacteria on product, coupled with illness “suggests that the sanitary conditions in the establishment under which the product is produced could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health,” according to the letter. FSIS further states that “the slaughter, dressing, and further processing of raw poultry product, including the prevention of contamination and the pathogen reduction interventions, are inconsistent and unreliable to control the pathogen of concern.”

Foster Farms was notified of the outbreak on July 25, 2013 via teleconference with FSIS personnel. After that time, Foster Farms did not adequately assess the HACCP plan and modify the plan to control hazards. In addition, before and after the intensified Salmonella testing, the performance of the establishment is also of concern, with multiple regulatory noncompliances issued for insanitary conditions.

From January 1, 2013 to September 27, 2013, FSIS personnel documented 12 Noncompliance Records (NRs) for findings of fecal material on carcasses. In addition, inspectors found poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary non food contact surfaces, and direct product contamination.

The symptoms of a Salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea that may be bloody, abdominal pain, and fever. If you have eaten Foster Farms chicken and have been ill, please visit your health care provider as soon as possible. Long term consequences of a Salmonella infection can be serious, including reactive arthritis and myocarditis.

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