July 17, 2024

FOIA Request Reveals Food Safety Violations at Foster Farms

A consumer advocacy group has made public 300 pages of USDA food safety violations at Foster Farms during the time the company was linked to a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 634 people. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) obtained the reports through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Chickens in CagesAmong the findings in the heavily redacted reports were: fecal material, metal fragments and unidentified foreign matter on chicken carcasses and, in the plants, mold, cockroaches and pooling water due to a floor drain clogged with chicken skin.

Most surprising, according to Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s food and agriculture program, was that violations continued after October 7, 2013, when USDA issued a Public Health Alert about Salmonella on the company’s chicken and threatened to close the plant in question. An outbreak that included 238 people in 17 states was announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the following day.

In the five months following the safety alert, the company’s Livingston Calif. plant was cited 154 times, an average of one violation every two days, according to the NRDC.  On January 8, 2014 the USDA ordered the plant closed for cockroach infestation. In  a statement released the same day, Foster Farms tried to minimize the problem saying , “a cockroach was observed during plant operations at the company’s Livingston, Calif., plant and the company was notified of four similar incidents since September 2013 in FSIS correspondence today.”  But after the plant reopened a few days later it racked up 48 more violations by the end of March.

Foster Farms says the Salmonella outbreak spurred it to make dramatic changes that have slashed Salmonella rates from 25 percent to less than 5 percent. The company now considers itself an industry leader in Salmonella reduction.

But sanitation violations aren’t the only concern that outbreak raised at Foster Farms. The Salmonella strains that caused the outbreak were resistant to antibiotics, causing twice as many hospitalizations than in a typical Salmonella outbreak. Foster Farms is one of many poultry producers that use antibiotics on the animals it raises, a practice associated with the rise in antibiotic resistance in humans. “We believe there is a role for the judicious use of antibiotics in the treatment of flock illness should that be necessary, which helps ensure human health, animal health and animal welfare, ” the company said in statement on its website. The NRDC is one of several consumer groups advocating for an overhaul of antibiotic use in livestock.




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