USDA threatens to shut down 3 Foster Farms facilities
The USDA is threatening to shut down three Foster Farms facilities in California that have been linked to a widespread Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 278 people to date. CBS News reports that the agency has given Foster Farms until today to tell the department his it will fix the problem. The company was notified on Monday.
Sampling by USDA in September showed that raw chicken processed by those facilities included strains of salmonella that were linked to the outbreak. But the company has not recalled any of its products. In a letter to Foster Farms, USDA said those samples coupled with illnesses suggest that the sanitary conditions at the facility "could pose a serious ongoing threat to public health."
The first illnesses in the outbreak were reported in March and the outbreak has had a high rate of hospitalizations. The CDC said 42 percent of victims were hospitalized, about double the normal rate, and it is resistant to many antibiotics, making it a more dangerous outbreak.
In the letter, Yudhbir Sharma of USDA's Alameda, Calif., district office said Foster Farms has failed to demonstrate that it has adequate controls in place to address the salmonella issue. He said that in one of the facilities, 25 percent of the samples taken were positive for salmonella.
The letter said that 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 contamination."
CBS News, Associated Press
Government shutdown hampers West Coast Salmonella investigation
Investigation into the Salmonella outbreak investigation that has sickened 278 people across 18 states to date is being adversely affected by the government shutdown. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks foodborne illness outbreaks, has been operating on limited funding since last week’s shutdown, reports Wired.com and Weather.com.
Under normal conditions, the CDC would offer cross-state consultation and lab work to help states fight disease outbreaks. CDC detectives cannot perform these tasks because they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails, according to Wired. Consumers concerned about the outbreak could also have a tough time getting information because many federal health agency websites are affected by the shutdown.
The outbreak has been linked to three Foster Farms plants in California. Foster Farms issued a statement saying that the company is cooperating with the FSIS and CDC during the investigation. To date, no official recall has been issued.
MedPage Today.com reported that the CDC is recalling 30 furloughed employees to work on the case. These returned staffers will “find additional cases nationwide, characterize the outbreak, and characterize the bacteria for antibiotic resistance,” the agency said in an email to MedPage Today.
Sources: Weather.com, Wired.com, MedPage Today.com
Consumer Reports announces tests find Salmonella in Foster Farms chicken
As part of its ongoing testing program of the safety of meat and poultry in the food supply, Consumer Reports found a strain of Salmonella Heidelberg in a Foster Farms raw chicken sample that matched one of the strains associated with the current and major foodborne illness outbreak.
The outbreak is currently associated with Foster Farms raw chicken products from processing plants in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Consumer Reports' one sample, purchased in California in July 2013, came from Foster Farms plant P-6137A, one of the three plants connected to the outbreak.
While Consumer Reports does not typically report findings from an individual test, the connection of the sample to the current outbreak prompted the organization to make this information public.
Despite nearly 300 illnesses reported in 17 states and a continuing outbreak investigation, Foster Farms has not issued a recall.
"It is outrageous that Foster Farms has not issued a recall in the face of so many illnesses associated with their product. We are calling on Foster Farms and the retail outlets that sell Foster Farms to recall the chicken processed at these plants. Foster Farms has a responsibility to public health to take this step," says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, toxicologist and Executive Director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.
Companies have taken a far more proactive consumer stance and issued recalls for as few as 12 illnesses. In this case, the outbreak is of particular concern due to its reported severity, the fact that that the associated strains are resistant to multiple antibiotic drugs, and the length of time that the CDC has been tracking illnesses that are now linked to Foster Farms chicken.
"Telling consumers to cook their chicken thoroughly is simply inadequate and irresponsible. How many illnesses will they wait for before taking action?" adds Rangan.
Source: Consumer Reports
Foster Farms issues statement, reiterates that no recall has been announced
Ron Foster, President and CEO of Foster Farms, provided the following information from the company to the public in regards to a Salmonella outbreak that has been linked to the company:
“On behalf of the Foster family, our company, and our more than 12,000 employees, I want to reassure you that we are taking every possible step to ensure the current and future safety of our chicken products. Food safety is, and has always been, at the heart of our business. I am deeply sorry for any illness associated with Foster Farms chicken and for any concern or confusion caused by this week's activity.
“We have a 75-year history for excellence because of our commitment to continuous advancement in food safety. We are putting every resource we have toward the continued safety of our fresh chicken.
“Consumers should know that as recently as Oct. 8, USDA-FSIS publicly assured the safety of our chicken: "Foster Farms chicken is safe to eat but, as with all raw chicken, consumers must use proper preparation, handling and cooking practices." There is no recall in effect and FSIS continues to inspect our poultry on a daily basis, certifying it as Grade A wholesome.
“On Monday, as part of a public health alert reminding consumers about proper handling and cooking procedures, the USDA issued Notifications of Intended Enforcement (NOIE) for our plants in Livingston and Fresno. This is an official request by the USDA to demonstrate improved operations, or in this case for Foster Farms, to identify new measures toward Salmonella control in the company's Hazard Analysis Critical Control Plan (HACCP), and in their immediate implementation for mutual satisfaction.
“Foster Farms is dedicated to resolving any concerns by the USDA. We are fully cooperating with FSIS during this process and are responding with new and already implemented practices in the affected plants. Some of these interventions have been in place for nearly two months and are proving to be successful. In addition, we have brought in national food safety experts to assess our processes.
“Earlier this year, we implemented similar new technology and interventions which were found to be highly effective at reducing Salmonella at our Pacific Northwest facility. The FSIS has been fully satisfied with the results.
“Despite the challenges of working with the federal government during the shutdown, we are a responsible business working that much harder in full collaboration with the USDA on a resolution.
“We have worked hard to earn your trust for 75 years, and I pledge that you can continue to safely enjoy the very best chicken from my family to yours.
“The following information should be helpful to know:
- The recent Consumer Reports coverage regarding Salmonella on raw poultry involved product purchased and tested in July 2013, prior to our new processes and controls being implemented at our California facilities. These same processes have been found to be highly effective in the Pacific Northwest and have met the full satisfaction of the FSIS. It should be noted that we were not informed about any investigation by either agency prior to Aug. 9. As soon as we were informed, we acted quickly to bring in national food safety experts to assess our processes and have reinforced them with new technologies proven to be effective.
- There is no recall and the plant codes on Foster Farms packages do not have an impact on product safety. The plant codes, P-6137, P-6137A and P-7632, only indicate where the product is produced. These plant numbers are not associated with any product recall or specific products. Further, Foster Farms has already implemented additional controls within these plants to fully ensure safety.
- It should be noted that while no illness is ever acceptable, the time period for this issue was over the course of six months from March to mid-September. During that time, more than 25 million consumers safely consumed Foster Farms chicken.
- Raw poultry is not a ready-to-eat product. All raw poultry is subject to naturally occurring bacteria. Whether the raw product is our brand or another, whether there is an alert or not, all raw chicken must be prepared following safe handling procedures, avoiding cross- contamination, and must be fully cooked to 165 degrees to ensure safety. According to the CDC, "It is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have Salmonella bacteria. CDC and USDA-FSIS recommend consumers follow food safety tips to prevent Salmonella infection from raw poultry produced by Foster Farms or any other brand."
“Consumers who have any questions should call us at 800-338-8051 and visit our FAQ online: http://www.fosterfarms.com/notice/10072013/.”
Source: Foster Farms