Foster Farms Poultry Plant in Calif. Shuttered Months After Salmonella Outbreak

The temporary suspension of operations comes after its chicken sickened hundreds across the US

By Christina Cocca
|  Thursday, Jan 9, 2014  |  Updated 7:48 AM CDT
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The USDA ordered Foster Farms to suspend operations at one of its California processing plants after inspectors found live cockroaches inside the facility. Chuck Henry reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013.

The USDA ordered Foster Farms to suspend operations at one of its California processing plants after inspectors found live cockroaches inside the facility. Chuck Henry reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013.

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The US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday suspended operations at Foster Farms' Livingston, Calif., poultry processing plant after finding an infestation of live cockroaches inside the facility.

The move comes months after a massive salmonella outbreak that spread to at least 23 states and Puerto Rico and sickened hundreds of people, including dozens in California.

"This action is initiated based on egregious insanitary conditions observed in your establishment," the USDA said in a notice of suspension sent to Foster Farms.

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The notice described USDA officials finding live cockroaches at a sink employees use to wash their hands, directly across from an inspection station. At the same time officials made the observation, "slaughter operations were in progress, and exposed product was present on the kill floor," the notice read.

The notice listed cockroaches having been found at a handwashing sink, a production tub, near a sanitizer dispenser box and on the floor.

"Because animal-based organic materials and garbage are excellent breeding media, cockroaches and other pests can transmit disease-causing pathogens, including bacteria," the USDA notice read.

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Foster Farms released a statement to NBC4 in response confirming the temporary closure.

"This morning, a cockroach was observed during plant operations at the company’s Livingston, Calif., plant and the company was notified of four similar incidents since September 2013 in FSIS correspondence today," the Foster Farms statement read. "Foster Farms closed the Livingston facility immediately for sanitization and treatment."

"No other facilities are affected. No products are affected. Product production has been transferred to the company’s other facilities," the statement read.

The poultry processor maintained in its statement that inspectors found five cockroaches in the 250,000 square-foot building since September, adding that "a single incident is not acceptable."

Last year's salmonella outbreak appeared to have begun in March, and the USDA was notified of the illnesses in July, according to the FSIS.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture had issued a health warning for the chicken but did not issue a recall. A spokesman for Foster Farms said the infections were caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled chicken.

An agreement made in October between the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service and Foster Farms allowed the Foster Farms plants in California, two plants in Fresno and one in Livingston to remain open, as long as they enhance food safety practices.

Some of the salmonella strains are resistant to antibiotics, with a hospitalization rate that's double the normal amount, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates meat during slaughter and processing, and is especially common in undercooked chicken.

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