Foster Farms says salmonella rates have fallen significantly

Foster Farms says it has significantly reduced salmonella rates on its chickens.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Foster Farms, the California chicken company battling an ongoing salmonella breakout, said it has dramatically reduced salmonella rates.

Salmonella rates are now about 2%, well below the national average of 25%, said Bob O’Connor, one of the companies’ two full-time veterinarians.

The reduction is “due to a lot of trial and error and waiting for modifications to kick in,” O’Connor said.

However, he acknowledged that salmonella remains a continuing concern.


“For the people who wanted a silver-bullet-type story, there isn’t one,” O Connor said. “With salmonella we’re not going to be able to say ‘It’s over.’ It’s an ongoing effort.”

The company’s announcement Monday was its first public statement since October, when the federal government threatened to close Foster Farms plants in the Central Valley, where unemployment rates hover near 20%.

The company said it has taken multiple steps to battle the outbreak.

Foster Farms cleaned and disinfected buildings where chicks are housed. It’s vaccinating birds five times, chlorinating water, using acid litter and giving probiotic feed.


The company also is adding controls to look for salmonella after carcasses have been divided into parts. The goal is to identify equipment that may need special cleaning.

Salmonella is a form of bacterium found in most chickens. It does not sicken the bird but can cause illness and death in humans.

More than 750 people have been sickened by two outbreaks linked to Foster Farms since 2012. More than three-quarters of those affected were in California.

The latest outbreak, which began in March 2013, is ongoing and has sickened 50 people in the last two months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Outbreaks are a growing concern for the industry, partly because strains are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

The most recent strain, known as Salmonella Heidelberg, has proved especially virulent and resistant to some antibiotics.

The USDA did not issue a health alert for the current outbreak until October 2013. Even as national retail chains such as Kroger Co. pulled Foster Farms products from their meat cases, the 75-year-old poultry firm did not issue a recall. Instead, it relayed the recommendations of federal inspectors, which was to cook all chicken to a minimum of 165 degrees.

Foster Farms also issued a public apology, overhauled some of its safety practices and vowed to win back consumers’ trust. But in another setback, the firm closed its flagship factory in Livingston for 10 days in January because of a cockroach infestation.


The outbreak sparked calls from food safety and consumer advocates for federal laws to treat salmonella as strictly as other food-borne illnesses such as E. coli, which triggers an automatic recall.