Foster Farms to Stay Open Despite Salmonella Outbreak

Despite linking a nationwide outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella to Foster Farms, which operates chicken-processing plants, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would not require the plants be closed. According to the agency, the company submitted plans to make immediate changes to their slaughter and processing and plans to implement the new processes immediately.

Inspectors to Verify Changes

The USDA confirmed that inspectors will verify the implementation of the required changes at the three plants linked to the outbreak during this investigation. For the next 90 days, the inspectors say that they will conduct intense samplings to further insure food safety at the plants.

Foster Farms Response

According to Ron Foster, CEO and president of Foster Farms, the decision by the USDA validates efforts to improve processing at the plants that began more than two months ago. Foster Farms has not recalled chicken processed at the three plants implicated in the salmonella outbreak because the USDA has not been able to connect the problem to a specific product or lot. However, Kroger removed Foster Farms products shipped from the three plants, not only from the Kroger supermarkets, but from Food 4 Less stores on the west coast and Smith’s, which are found in New Mexico and Nevada.

Particularly Virulent Strain

Salmonella is present in raw animal protein, but will die if the foods are cooked at 165 degrees. Cross contamination of cooked chicken with raw juices can also spread the bacteria. USDA performance standards allow up to 7.5% of chicken carcasses to test positive for the bacteria. However, the salmonella found in the outbreak is one that is resistant to antibiotics, making it more dangerous than other forms of the bacteria. Of those infected with this strain, 42% were hospitalized, which is a much higher percentage than normal for a salmonella outbreak. 13% suffered from salmonella septicemia, a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the entire body. No deaths have yet been reported from the outbreak. Most of the infected chicken was sold in California, Oregon and Washington, with 77% of the illnesses occurring in California.

Foster Farms is one of the largest poultry processors in the United States. CEO Foster apologized for the outbreak on behalf of his family and the company, stating that the company was working “around the clock” to address the problem.