On Wednesday, federal inspectors shut down a poultry processing plant in California connected to a multi-state salmonella outbreak. The plant was found to have been infested with cockroaches four times over the past five months.
The Foster Farms plant is one of three in central California being investigated for an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, USA Today reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that to date 416 people in 23 states have been sickened. Cockroaches have been documented to carry viruses and bacteria, including salmonella.
The salmonella strain in the Foster Farms outbreak is resistant to the same antibiotics commonly given to food animals, according to a senior analyst with Keep Antibiotics Working, a coalition trying to limit antibiotic use in the food chain, SFGate.com reported in fall 2012.
In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) refused to close the Livingston, California plant, saying Foster Farms had “submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations.” In December, Dan Englejohn, assistant administrator of the USDA’s Office of Field Operations, told USA Today that Foster Farms had proven to the agency that the company was taking steps to control contamination at the plants. But yesterday’s letter to Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster documented four cases of live cockroach contamination in the plant—on September 14, November 4, December 28, and January 7. The letter, first reported by The Oregonian newspaper, notes “egregious insanitary conditions related to a cockroach infestation” that indicate the plant “is not being operated and maintained in sanitary conditions.” The USDA removed its inspectors from the plant, which in effect closed the plant because under federal law meat processing plants cannot operate without inspectors on site.
According to the USDA, chicken is the most consumed meat in the United States. In 2013 Americans ate 83 pounds per person, USA Today reports.