The U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down a Foster Farms poultry plant in California on Wednesday after finding cockroaches on site for the fourth time since September. The USDA won't say how many roaches were found but did say the pests were found in various locations throughout the plant.
This news comes only months after the Livingston, California, plant and two others underwent investigation in relation to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds of people since last March.
According to The Oregonian, a Food Safety and Inspection Service employee sent a suspension notice to Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster on Wednesday detailing the four cases of cockroach infestation, which occurred on September 14, November 4, December 28 and finally on January 7. The notice included the following language:
These recent findings of egregious (unsanitary) conditions related to a cockroach infestation in your facility indicate that your establishment is not being operated and maintained in sanitary condition, or in a manner to ensure that product is not adulterated.
Poorly maintained facilities and equipment that are not maintained to prevent entrance of pests, such as cockroaches, rats and flies, can and do harbor food borne pathogens, which can then multiply and be dispersed throughout the food processing environment, increasing the chances of product contamination rendering the product unsafe.
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The FSIS threatened to close this plant in October during the salmonella outbreak investigation, but allowed the plant and two others also under investigation to stay open after the company agreed to improve its food safety practices. Despite being linked to two salmonella outbreaks last year, Foster Farms never issued recalls of potentially infected products, opting instead to remind customers to cook chicken thoroughly.
Pests such as cockroaches can carry bacteria, including salmonella but it isn't clear whether the cockroaches are related to the ongoing outbreak. Salomnella is considered naturally occurring and not an adulterant, which is why federal inspectors couldn't force Foster Farms to recall infected chicken.
Foster Farms says no other plants or any products have been affected by the infestation and that production has been moved elsewhere.