More than 30 health, environmental, animal welfare and consumer organisations sent a letter to Foster Farms last week. The letter pointed out that an investigation into the outbreak by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had linked Foster Farms’ chicken to antibiotic-resistant salmonella strains.
"According to the CDC, many of the salmonella outbreak strains found in patients and in Foster Farms chicken were resistant to one or more commonly prescribed antibiotics," stated the letter.
The coalition said Foster Farms could "regain its credibility" by explaining how its birds were raised and revealing the specific steps it was taking to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
It recommended that the company publish a detailed description of the antibiotics it uses to raise chickens, commit to reducing antibiotic use by adopting improved husbandary, and verify its progress through audits by an independent third party.
"Antibiotic resistance was a significant feature of this outbreak, yet Foster Farms has not disclosed information about its antibiotic use or plans for preventing the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from Foster Farms products, waste streams and facilities," said the letter.
"By demonstrating antibiotic stewardship, your company will also show your progress in promoting healthy flocks that don’t need routine antibiotic use."
Foster Farms has come under considerable scrutiny since it was first linked to the salmonella outbreak last October. The company’s California plants were allowed to remain open after it implemented "substantive" changes to its slaughtering and processing operations, but production at its Livingston plant was subsequently suspended after inspectors found a cockroach infestation.
The plant was due to resume production on 11 January, but Foster Farms yesterday voluntarily put operations on hold to implement further changes to its manufacturing procedures and monitoring systems, as approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Foster Farms president Ron Foster said: "On behalf of my family, I made a commitment to making this right and we are taking every opportunity to ensure the long-term efficacy of our program at this plant. We are confident in the preventative plan and want to take the time to properly implement new measures to our satisfaction.
"Foster Farms is a company that strives for excellence. We will not resume operations until we are confident that we have the most stringent and effective treatment protocols in place."