USDA: Poultry Plants Must
Correct Salmonella Problem
The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave Foster Farms until TODAY
(72 hours) to correct problems at its California facilities that led to a salmonella
outbreak in 18 states, as reported by Fresno Bee and other news sources,
or the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would withdraw its
As poultry plants are not permitted to operate without these
inspectors, the California poultry processing plants, including two in Fresno
and one in Livingston, would essentially be forced to shut down.
Nearly 300 cases of salmonella have been reported, most of them
in California (including ﬁve in Fresno County).
USDA sampling in September showed that raw chicken processed by
Foster Farms' California facilities included strains of salmonella that were
linked to the outbreak. But the company has not recalled any of its products.
In the letter to Foster Farms, USDA those samples, coupled with
illnesses, suggest that the sanitary conditions at the facility "could
pose a serious ongoing threat to public health."
The outbreak, with the ﬁrst illnesses reported last March, has
had a high rate (42% of the victims) of hospitalizations. The federal CDC
described this as about double the normal rate. This strain is resistant to
many antibiotics, making it a more dangerous outbreak.
The letter said that Foster Farms failed to demonstrate that it
has adequate controls in place to address the salmonella issue; in one of the
facilities, 25% of the samples were positive for salmonella. In addition, prior
to the outbreak, USDA inspectors had documented "fecal material on
carcasses" along with "poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary
food contact surfaces, insanitary nonfood contact surfaces and direct product
Despite other evidence they have gathered, USDA and CDC
inspectors have not been able to definitively link the illnesses to a speciﬁc
Foster Farms product.
Inspectors in Washington State found outbreak strains of
salmonella in a leftover sample of raw Foster Farms chicken in an ill person's
home; however, USDA ofﬁcials were not able to decipher the label on the
chicken, so they could not prove which of Foster Farms' speciﬁc products caused
The CDC said the salmonella illnesses appear to be linked to
another Foster Farms outbreak last year and earlier this year, when 134 people
in 13 states were sickened with one of the same strains of salmonella that has
made people ill in the current outbreak.
Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates meat during slaughter
and processing, is especially common in raw chicken. The pathogen can be life
threatening to those with weakened immune systems and causes diarrhea,
abdominal cramps and fever within a few days of eating a contaminated product.
Remarkably, these infections can be avoided with proper handling
and cooking of raw poultry.
Consumer advocates have petitioned the USDA to declare
Salmonella to be illegal, as is E. coli, but the USDA is reluctant to do so.
Thus, salmonella outbreaks in poultry can take longer to discover and recalls
don't happen as quickly.
Given the evidence, officials said that withdrawing meat
inspectors and shutting down the plant are the best regulatory measures. If
USDA were to force a recall, it would likely have to go through the courts.
Given similar scenarios, many companies have conducted
voluntary recalls. And, even though the meat hasn't
been recalled, some grocery stores are taking it off their shelves anyway.
USDA inspectors are considered essential government employees,
so they have continued to work during the federal government shutdown. Dozens
of inspectors work at the Foster Farms plant in Livingston, one of the largest
in the country.
Nevertheless, the shutdown has hampered the government’s
response to food safety issues. While USDA's meat inspectors are on the job,
the CDC furloughed many of its investigators. But the agency recalled many of
those workers Tuesday to work on the salmonella outbreak.
In a statement Monday, Foster Farms said the company regretted
any illnesses, was taking steps on its own to ensure food safety, and is
working with the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service and the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the incidence of salmonella at its
"Foster Farms has instituted a number of additional food
safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that
have already proven effective in controlling salmonella in its Paciﬁc Northwest
operations earlier this year," the company said.
Foster Farms employs about 11,000 people in chicken and turkey
operations in California, the Paciﬁc Northwest and the South. About 3,000 work
at the processing plant in Livingston, and more than 1,000 work in its Fresno
County facilities, including poultry processing and hatcheries.
Labels: California poultry, Foster Farms and Salmonella, Foster Farms May have to Close Plants, FSIS inspectors and salmonella, salmonella outbreak, USDA and Salmonella