Foster Farms said it was working hard to repair its tarnished image after a salmonella outbreak linked to its chickens sickened more than 300 people nationwide.
In one of the first interviews since the outbreak was announced earlier this month, Foster Farms President Ron Foster told The Times the company had implemented a series of new safety measures to reduce the instances of salmonella on its poultry parts to significantly below the industry standard.
The announcement comes two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture threatened to shutter three of the company's facilities that are tied to the outbreak. The plants were allowed to remain open because Foster Farms developed improvement plans deemed adequate by inspectors.
Company officials say the outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg, which has hospitalized double the rate of people as a typical salmonella outbreak, was regrettable. The company has since shored up cleaning procedures and implemented vaccinations targeting the Heidelberg strain.
“We truly regret any illness associated with our products,” Foster said at the company’s headquarters in Livingston, Calif. “Our brand was built on trust and I think we violated… our consumers’ trust. And it’s now our responsibility to earn it back and we plan on doing that by having a gold standard chicken in the market.”
Foster said the company was close to achieving one of its chief goals: reducing the instances of salmonella on its chicken parts to 5%. The industry average is 25%. Foster said sampling shows the company is currently at 5.6%.
Sales at the company have plummeted 25% since the outbreak became public, Foster said.
The outbreak has shown signs of antibiotic resistance, raising fears that the company's use of the drugs on its poultry was endangering patients.
Robert O'Connor, Foster Farms' chief veterinarian, said the company uses antibiotics in the early stages of the chickens' lives to ward off common diseases. He said those drugs were not used to treat humans.
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