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Originally published September 19 2014

Widespread health violations at Foster Farms chicken factories, including mold, fecal matter and roaches

by Julie Wilson staff writer

(NaturalNews) Thanks to a grassroots consumer advocacy group, one of the largest poultry producers in the Pacific Northwest has been exposed for committing hundreds of health and safety violations in less than just eight months.

Referred to by The New York Times as "one of the nation's most powerful environmental groups," the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) blew the whistle on Foster Farms' operations after receiving documentation describing the company's failure to meet and maintain federally mandated food standards.

The environmental action group filed a Freedom of Information Act request on March 7, 2014, asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for documentation of any violations made by Foster Farms, a poultry company involved in every step of the process including hatcheries, feed mills and slaughterhouses.

Included in NRDC's request were "any written findings of non-compliance, including but not limited to Notices of Suspension, Notices of Intended Enforcement, and Noncompliance reports, and any additional correspondence, including emails, with Foster Farms related to enforcement, microbiological or residue testing, or food safety concerns" between January 2009 and March 2014.

Poultry producer responsible for Salmonella outbreak cited for hundreds of health violations, many of which involve fecal contamination

The results consisted of more than 300 pages' worth of reports written by the USDA from September 2013 to March 2014, describing health violations including the presence of mold growth, fecal contamination and cockroaches, according to a report by The Washington Post.

More than 200 violations were issued to two Foster Farms plants in California, which also happen to be the source of an antibiotic-resistant outbreak that sickened more than 600 people in 23 states earlier this year.

Heidelberg, the strain of Salmonella that sickened hundreds, including a toddler who needed part of his scalp removed after doctors discovered abscesses on his brain caused by the infection, proved resistant to several types of commonly prescribed antibiotics.

While the meat industry's use of antibiotics has proven harmful to the public's health and the environment, industry claims that operating without the drugs is impossible.

USDA oversight fails to correct health and safety violations

Despite enforcement and increased oversight by the USDA, NRDC was surprised to learn that the rate of violations for fecal contamination -- a common source of Salmonella -- remained at nearly the same levels at the two California plants, as reported by the Post.

Foster Farms received nearly another 500 violations following routine inspections performed by Department of Agriculture officials at almost a dozen other plants around the U.S.

"The inspection reports include descriptions of mold growth, cockroaches, an instance of pooling caused by a skin-clogged floor drain, fecal matter and 'Unidentified Foreign Material' (which has its own acronym, UFM) on chicken carcasses, failure to implement required tests and sampling, metal pieces found in carcasses, and many more," wrote NRDC in a statement.

"The good news is that these reports indicate that immediate corrective action is generally required whenever a violation is found and contaminated products must be re-washed or discarded."

Responding to the violations, Foster Farms maintains that they've made "extensive progress" over the last year, particularly the last four months, updating their facility control and operations, which have, "fully satisfied" USDA requests, the poultry supplier alleged.

"The reports referenced do not reflect Foster Farms' current performance, nor do they examine data-based standards and performance of other poultry producers in regards to Salmonella control and compliance," said the company.

Foster Farms took the opportunity to highlight the fact that only 5 percent of their chickens test positive for Salmonella, compared with the industry's average of 25 percent, as if that fact, even if true, excuses the estimated 700 violations that the company received.

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