June 22, 2018

USDA Closes Foster Farms Plant for Cockroaches

One of the troubled Foster Farms chicken processing plants that was associated with at least one Salmonella outbreak last year has finally been closed by the USDA. For cockroaches.

GavelsThe Foster Farms facility in Livingston, California was closed on Wednesday, January 8, 2013 for “egregious insanitary conditions”. Inspectors found live cockroaches “in and around the processing areas, that demonstrate the firm failed to maintain an effective pest control program,” according to the letter. At the time of the observation, slaughter operations were in process. Cockroaches can carry Salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria.

Attorney Fred Pritzker, who is representing some of the victims in this case, said, “All food processing plants in the U.S. must be held to a high standard. Insanitary conditions are simply unacceptable. USDA was right to close this plant.”

This is not the first time cockroaches were found at that plant. FSIS documented noncompliance for live cockroaches at the Livingston facility on September 14, 2013, November 4, 2013, December 28, 2013, and January 7, 2013. Cockroaches were “observed and documented on multiple days (including on two consecutive days) in multiple locations within the establishment.”

The ongoing Salmonella outbreak associated with that plant and two others has sickened at least 416 people in 23 states. The first outbreak last year was announced in February, 2013. The second was announced in October 2013. The USDA threatened to close three of the company’s facilities in October 2013, but three days later announced the company would be allowed to continue processing chicken.

On Wednesday, the USDA pulled its inspectors from the plant, which shuts it down. Foster Farms said they were conducting “enhanced sanitizing” at the facility and hoped to reopen soon.

No recall of any product was announced by the USDA or Foster Farms during both of the outbreaks despite several consumer and food safety groups asking for a recall, because Salmonella is “naturally occurring”, according to the government. USDA simply issued a “public health alert“. Costco recalled Foster Farms rotisserie chicken products in October 2013 after they were associated with the outbreak. But Foster Farms and USDA just reminded consumers to cook chicken to 165°F and handle the chickens using basic food safety rules. It’s worth pointing out that the chickens recalled by Costco were fully cooked to 180°F in professional kitchens.

The hospitalization rate in the current outbreak is about 40%, which is double the usual rate because the bacteria in the Foster Farms chicken is resistant to several antibiotics. Many of the hospitalized patients developed septicemia, a life-threatening blood infection. Seven different Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak strains have been found on the chickens.

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