Foster Farms: Company Apologizes And Improves Facilities While Mexico
By Laurie Greene, Associate Editor
simultaneously, Foster Farms issued an apology for the salmonella outbreak and
described progress in its new food safety measures—and Mexico blocked
imports of the company’s chicken.
the top export market for U.S. poultry, told the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) on Tuesday it was removing two Foster Farms plants in Fresno and one in
Livingston from its list of approved exporters. USDA had identified these
plants as the likely origins of a salmonella outbreak.
removing of approval is believed to be the first time Mexico has responded in
such a way to a U.S. health alert. While Mexico imposed anti-dumping duties on
U.S. chicken leg quarters last year, the ruling has not been implemented
because of poultry shortages brought on by avian flu.
inspectors and Foster Farms have maintained that poultry from the processing
sites are safe to eat if handled properly and cooked to a minimum of 165
Farms relies overwhelmingly on domestic sales to drive its annual revenue of
$2.3 billion; however, Foster Farms President Ron Foster said sales had
fallen 25% since the USDA announced its health alert on Oct. 7.
California Ag Today deems the Mexican refusal to accept Foster Farms chicken
unfair because the consumer has always had the ability and responsibility to
avoid salmonella by cooking poultry safely and preventing
cross-contamination with other items.
TODAY, Foster Farms posted the following full-page letter on Fresno Bee’s
back page of the A section:
Customers and Friends,
family is committed to the safety of your family.
nearly 75 years Foster Farms has worked hard to earn your trust, and we know
that the recent Salmonella illnesses associated with Foster Farms have shaken
want to take this opportunity to apologize wholeheartedly.
also want to let you know what we’re doing to fix this.
have strengthened our food-safety programs, from our ranches to our processing
plants and all the way to the packages you purchase at the store. These
measures are designed to go beyond USDA requirements and set a new standard not
just for Foster Farms but also for the poultry industry as a whole.
have drawn upon the best advice, the best technology and the best efforts of
our employees to develop these new programs, which have already proven
effective in further reducing Salmonella. We will not be satisfied until Foster
Farms is once again a product that you purchase with complete confidence.
Farms is a family-run business, and food safety has always been at the very
heart of what we do. In the coming days and weeks, I look forward to sharing
more about our commitment to lead the industry in food safety. Until then,
please take the time to visit our website at www.fosterfarms.com,
or call us with any questions at 800-338-8051.
and CEO of Foster Farms
March, the salmonella outbreak from Foster Farms chicken has sickened at least
338 people across 20 states, including at least five in Fresno County. A
particularly virulent strain of salmonella, Salmonella Heidelberg has
proved resistant to antibiotics, so about 40% of victims have been
hospitalized, double the usual rate associated with such outbreaks, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
threatened to shut down the plants after inspectors found multiple cleanliness
violations, including fecal matter on carcasses.
response, the firm agreed to develop new protocols to reduce contamination
rates and bolster food safety at the three facilities, which continued
operating after Foster Farms demonstrated progress on new control measures. Government regulators generally allow some levels of the
contaminant in poultry facilities because it can be killed through cooking.
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USDA announced the recall of more than 13,400 "Kirkland Signature Foster
Farms" rotisserie chickens and related Kirkland Farms products such as
soup, chicken salad and leg quarters over concerns about salmonella sold at
Costco's South San Francisco store between Sept. 24 and Oct. 15.
previous recall encompassed more than 9,000 Foster Farms rotisserie chickens
and related products purchased at the same South San Francisco Costco between
Sept. 11 and Sept. 23.
the grandson of the company's founders, apologized for the biggest food safety
lapse in the family firm's history, privately owned and operated by the Foster
family since 1939, and acknowledged the reputation of California's No. 1
chicken producer had taken a serious hit.
could not account for why company and government inspectors failed to detect
the contamination before the product reached consumers, but he stated, "We
truly regret any illness associated with our products; our brand was built on
trust and I think we violated … our consumers' trust. And it's now our
responsibility to earn it back and we plan on doing that by having a gold
standard chicken in the market." He vowed to reassure consumers with
improved sanitation and other measures to reduce the ubiquitous bacteria
proving a challenge for poultry producers nationwide.
also defended his decision not to recall Foster Farms poultry because the
tainted birds met or exceeded industry standards for salmonella, and the firm's
products were still safe to eat if handled properly and cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees
Fahrenheit. "If we had pulled our product from the market and
put someone else's in, we'd be lying to the consumer because you're saying
someone else is better," Foster said.
said the company has begun vaccinating birds for Salmonella Heidelberg and
feeding chickens probiotics, a sort of good bacteria, to combat salmonella in
the birds' digestive systems. Foster Farms is also requiring poultry breeders
who supply the company with chicks to certify that the birds are free of
Farms has increased sterilization efforts on surfaces, equipment and workers'
clothing in its processing facilities. Officials admitted the company had
lagged behind in its safety procedures inside the plants because it focused its
energy on the farms, where the threat of salmonella contamination was greater.
Farms has already reaped rewards from the new safety measures. The company is
close to achieving a chief goal: reducing the instances of salmonella on its
chicken parts from an industry average of 25% to 5%.
said sampling shows the company is currently at 5.6%.
the industry as a whole usually finds salmonella on 3.5% of its whole birds,
Foster Farms’ chickens showed no evidence of salmonella, and Foster believes
that the reduction in salmonella is sustainable and hopes that other poultry
producers will follow suit.
some food safety advocates have called for reduction in antibiotics used in
farming. Robert O'Connor, Foster Farms' chief veterinarian, defended
their use in the early stages of their chickens’ lives to prevent a common
gastrointestinal disease. "These antibiotics are used very
sparingly," O'Connor said. "There has to be a reason for treating a
flock. There has to be a disease that requires us to treat."
O'Connor and Foster had hoped that the worst has passed for the outbreak,
largely because the company moved quickly to address shortcomings in its
facilities. "Our goal was to get improvements in place as soon as
possible," Foster said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Foster Farms; Fresno Bee; Rich
Pedroncelli, Associated Press; David Pierson and Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles
Times; Lynne Terry, The Oregonian; USDA
Labels: Foster Farms Company Apologizes, Foster Farms Improves facilities, Mexico Blocks Foster Farms chicken, New Developments in Salmonella Outbreak, Poultry recall, Ron Foster apologizes, Salmonella Heidelberg