Foster Farms, the California-based poultry company whose chicken was the source of a recent 17-month Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 600 people, has shared the plan it’s been implementing to control contamination of its product. The processor’s  program, highlighted Thursday in a press release covering the Delmarva Poultry Industry’s National Meeting on Poultry Health, has put $75 million towards reducing Salmonella in its raw products. The plan was developed in anticipation of new government microbiological standards for raw poultry parts, due to be announced soon, said Dr. Robert O’Connor, senior vice president for technical services Foster Farms. The strategy, O’Connor said, centers around an intensive data collection and analysis regimen. The five-part plan includes the following elements:

– Collaboration and information sharing with all stakeholders, including regulatory agencies. The company has formed an advisory board to validate its methods.

– Extensive data collection: Sampling for Salmonella will be done on the ranch and throughout processing. The company has an internal lab, in which it plans to double testing from 80,000 tests to 160,000 tests per year.

– Analysis of internal data to identify trends at individual ranches and factors at different locations that could influence contamination.

– Acting on data: The company has established new procedures for environmental control in and around ranch houses to prevent spreading of Salmonella between flocks.

– Measuring results: According to O’Connor, Foster Farms is continuously measuring Salmonella levels at all stages of production and has recorded a continuous decline of Salmonella levels in packaged parts over the last seven months.

Between March 1, 2013 and July 11, 2014, 634 infections of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg were linked to raw chicken products from Foster Farms in 29 states. Foster Farms’ chicken was also the source of a 13-state outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg that sickened 134 people, mostly in Washington and Oregon, between June 2012 and April 2013.  Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, Dr. O’Connor’s name was misspelled in the third mentioning of his name as O’Connell. This error has been corrected.   

  • Food Microbiologist

    Good for Foster Farms in addressing Salmonella in the preharvest environment. Preharvest control is critical because there is only so much reduction can be accomplished during slaughter and dressing. When will FSIS begin to address preharvest control of epidemic strains of Salmonella as it does with residue violations?

    • whoisoutthere

      Valid points FM. Very high percentage of chicken is contaminated (salmonella, etc) before reaching the processor. I think it will unfortunately not be addressed, because it will mean a pretty significant change in how “industrialized” meat/chicken is fed, raised, handled. People don’t want the costs of meat to go up to reflect costs associated with better animal practices, so not much FSIS can do about it.