Foster Farms president Ron Foster published a public apology on the company’s website saying he was “sorry for any foodborne illness associated with our fresh chicken”. However, he stressed that the company had acted quickly to address the problems in its poultry chain, and claimed that chicken produced at its three California poultry plants was safe if cooked properly.
“The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and California Department of Public Health confirm that Foster Farms products are as safe as any other poultry product in the US when properly handled and fully cooked. USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors continue to inspect and approve the safety of Foster Farms chicken daily at each of our plants,” he said.
His comments came as the Safe Food Coalition (SFC) urged the government to force Foster Farms to issue an urgent recall of Foster Farm chicken from the three California plants linked to the outbreak.
The coaltion of eight consumer groups wrote to US Secretary of State Tom Vilsack last week stating: “We appreciate that in the absence of a definitive link between illnesses and specific product, FSIS took action by issuing a public health alert to notify the public about Foster Farms’ association to the outbreak,” said the letter.
“However, considering the number of people sickened by this outbreak, the high hospitalisation rate, the antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella, FSIS’ testing results in the plants, and the fact that the outbreak is ongoing, we question why a recall did not occur.”
So far, the official line from the government has been that it cannot demand a recall because of difficulty linking the outbreak to specific products.
“When public health is threatened by meat or poultry products, FSIS has an obligation to act in a manner that is consistent with the evidence before it. In this case, FSIS did not have the evidence to make a legal case for a recall of product produced by Foster Farms,” explained FSIS on its website.
Over 300 people across 20 states have fallen ill with Salmonella Heidelberg in the US since March, and authorities have raised concern over a high level of antibiotic resistance, which has pushed hospitalisation rates up to 42%, from around 20% in a normal outbreak.
Wholesaler Costco issued a recall of private-label rotisserie chicken products produced by Foster Farms last week, prompting shares in major poultry producers Tyson Foods, Piglrims Pride and Sanderson Farms to slump.