Foster Farms facilities to remain open after salmonella outbreak

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Foster Farms, the poultry producer that came under fire after a salmonella outbreak was linked to its facilities in a public health alert Monday, will be permitted to continue operations at three of its California locations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service determined Thursday evening that plans put forth by Foster Farms to immediately change its slaughtering and processing practices were sufficient to avoid shuttering the facilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 213 of the 278 reports of salmonella contraction during the outbreak came from California. The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s investigation began July 1, but some cases were reported as early as March. While the 42 percent hospitalization rate is double that of typical salmonella outbreaks, according to the CDC, there have been no reported deaths associated with the outbreak.

Dr. Tomas Aragon, the director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Emergency Readiness at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said he was concerned by the relatively high rate of hospitalization for afflicted individuals.

Aragon speculated that this particular strain — or strains — is more pathogenic than typical ones, given that salmonella is usually self-limiting and that individuals with the infection usually recover without antibiotics. The salmonella linked to Foster Farms facilities has been uncommonly resistant to antibiotic treatment, according to the CDC.

No recall has been issued for the chicken products, and the investigation is ongoing. Aaron Lavallee, an administrator with the Food Safety and Inspection Service, explained that discerning which products were tainted with salmonella is the missing piece of the puzzle. Officials have yet to pinpoint whether those products are chicken breasts, thighs or something else altogether.

In letters sent to Foster Farms’ president, Ron Foster, on Oct. 7, food safety inspectors said multiple noncompliance records had been filed against the company before and during the outbreak, from January through September, regarding fecal material on animal carcasses.

Foster Farms has made various attempts to reassure the public on its website. Foster personally apologized to those afflicted with the foodborne illness, and the company reminded consumers that all raw meat must be properly handled and cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to ensure safe consumption.

Cal Dining said that it does not use any Foster Farms products and that students with meal plans have no need to worry about the outbreak. Stores that do not vend Foster Farms chicken include Andronico’s Community Markets and Trader Joe’s, among others.

Costco will continue to sell Foster Farms poultry, according to Craig Wilson, the corporation’s vice president of food safety and quality assurance. Safeway representatives could not be reached for comment.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected].