A New York-based consumer advocacy group posted more than 300 pages of USDA reports on their Web site Thursday that show widespread health and safety violations at Foster Farms plants across the nation, including mold growth, fecal contamination and cockroaches.
The Natural Resources Defense Council reviewed the Department of Agriculture reports and identified more than 200 violations at the two Foster Farms plants in California that the National Centers for Disease Control linked to an antibiotic-resistent outbreak of salmonella that has sickened at least 634 people, the records show.
Jonathan Kaplan, director of NRDC’s food and agriculture program, said the group was most surprised that the rate of violations for fecal contamination — a common source of samonella — remained at almost the same levels at the two California plants, even after USDA had stepped up enforcement and oversight.
The group also identified nearly 500 additional violations found by Department of Agriculture inspectors at nearly a dozen other Foster Farms plants across the nation, records show. NRDC requested the “non-compliance” reports through the Freedom of Information Act, for violations found between September 2013 and March.
The outbreak lasted for more than 15 months, and CDC did not declare it to be over until late July.
“The inspection reports include descriptions of mold growth, cockroaches, an instance of pooling caused by a skin-clogged floor drain, fecal matter and “Unidentified Foreign Material” (which has its own acronym, UFM) on chicken carcasses, failure to implement required tests and sampling, metal pieces found in carcasses, and many more,” NRDC said in a prepared statement about their work. “The good news is that these reports indicate that immediate corrective action is generally required whenever a violation is found and contaminated products must be re-washed or discarded.”
“Foster Farms has made extensive progress over the last year, and especially over the last four months, as a result of our multi-hurdle approach to Salmonella control and our updated facility operations. We have since fully satisfied the requests of the USDA and the CDC,” the company said in a prepared statement. “The reports referenced do not reflect Foster Farms’ current performance, nor do they examine data-based standards and performance of other poultry producers in regards to Salmonella control and compliance.” Foster Farms also said that over the past several months, the rate of its chickens that test positive for salmonella is five percent compared to the industry average, which is 25 percent.
The group has been aggressively fighting the use of antibiotics on chicken and turkey farms for years, since the use of the drugs has been linked by CDC scientists and other experts to resistant strains of salmonella and other pathogens that are potentially lethal. On its Web site, Foster Farms says it engages in a “prudent use of antibiotics to maintain flock health” and the company does not use them for growth promotion.