|Are you eating right now? Push away your plate for a moment. Recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture reports on widespread health and safety violations at numerous Foster Farms plants have indicated that everything from fecal matter to mold growth has been found in plants processing chicken meat.Earlier this year, Foster Farms was linked to an incredible 15-month long Salmonella outbreak that ended up sickening over 600 people nationwide. Foster Farms says that only 5% of its chickens now test positive for Salmonella (compared to a 25% industry average). The National Resources Defense Council publicly released USDA documents, however, that paint quite a different picture. They document widespread issues with basic health and hygiene, including over 200 violations at the processing plants that were directly implicated in the Salmonella outbreak.
According to the NRDC, these violations included “descriptions of mold growth, cockroaches, an instance of pooling caused by a skin-clogged floor drain” as well as “failure to implement required tests and sampling,” and “metal pieces found in carcasses.” By failing to conduct required tests, Foster Farms is, again, risking that contaminated meats reach supermarkets and dinner tables.
“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,” said the NRDC in an additional prepared statement, though some might question how frequently violations are not recorded and followed up on.
Any of the described violations could be potentially dangerous. Fecal contamination led to the original outbreak of a drug-resistant Salmonella strain, while mold and mildew, which are typically caused by water damage or moist conditions, can be extremely hazardous to humans exposed to them.
The use of antibiotics, though they were not a main part of the report, are also under fire at Foster Farms, which faces pressure from various health advocacy groups to reduce how often it uses them. As a “preventative measure,” antibiotics are still administered in their hatcheries to day-old chicks. Currently, about 80% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used for livestock, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the overuse of these drugs has led to antibiotic resistance.
For its part, Foster Farms has contested the findings, saying that it has made “extensive progress” and enacted numerous facility upgrades in order to avoid another Salmonella outbreak. “The reports referenced do not reflect Foster Farms’ current performance,” said the company in a released statement.