At first blush, it might seem like overkill to go back five years collecting noncompliance reports (NRs) from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for all Foster Farms facilities.
That’s exactly what the New York City-based National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did Thursday in dumping 300 pages of NRs on Foster Farms in the public square. And one could even argue that NDRC is not providing anything new since FSIS reports NR summaries by plant in the agency’s quarterly reports.
However, NRDC obtained FSIS inspection reports that provide far greater detail by filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act. And, with Foster Farms being under the government’s microscope since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) blamed it for the much-publicized outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella, the story told by the data is surprising.
NR reports for 2014 alone account for 100 of those 300 pages. And the two Foster Farms plants in California which CDC linked to the antibiotic-resistant Salmonella outbreak have racked up 200 separate violations during the period.
NRDC, which works on farm and food policy out of its San Francisco offices, is one of a couple dozen activist groups that have used the Salmonella outbreak to pressure Foster Farms about its policy regarding antibiotics. It wants Foster Farms to limit antibiotic use to treating sick chickens, not for growth enhancement.
In releasing 300 pages of the inspection reports, NRDC called many of them “incredibly unsavory.” The group’s statement noted that, “the pattern of violations at Foster Farm plants doesn’t leave us feeling warm and fuzzy about the company’s commitment to protecting public health.”
The Foster Farms-linked drug-resistant Salmonella outbreak ran from March 2013 to July 2014. Heavily centered on California where Foster Farms does most of its production, the 29-state outbreak resulted in 634 confirmed illnesses, and nearly 40 percent of the cases required hospitalization. Foster Farms did not recall any products until the outbreak was nearly over.
Reading noncompliance reports is best not done around meal times. NRDC states that the inspection reports contain descriptions of “mold growth, cockroaches, an instance of pooling caused by a skin-clogged floor drain, fecal matter and ‘Unidentified Foreign Material’ (which has it own acronym, UFM) on chicken carcasses, failure to implement required tests and sampling, metal pieces found in carcasses, and many more.”
“We would have expected that improved sanitation would be a top priority at Foster Farms at the height of the Salmonella outbreak, yet its slaughter and processing plant in Livingston, CA, was cited 154 times in the weeks and months after October 7, 2013, when USDA issued a public health alert about Foster Farms chicken,” reads the NRDC’s statement.
The environmental group said a violation was occurring once every other day between October 2013 and March 2014. The Foster Farms plant that was temporarily closed in January 2014 had NRs for cockroach infestations and “egregious insanitary conditions.”
NRs are the first step USDA/FSIS meat inspectors take to obtain corrective action. Many corrections are obtained on the spot, while others are settled or appealed. Foster Farms opted not to accept an invitation by Food Safety News to comment on the inspection reports released by NRDC.
On its website, Foster Farms says that antibiotics are not used for routine growth promotion. CEO Ron Foster has defended the use of antibiotics for keeping flocks healthy. The company has also claimed to have achieved dramatic reduction in Salmonella and Campylobacter in its fresh poultry, and those gains have been confirmed by outside experts.
Food Safety News