LIVINGSTON -- Federal inspectors suspended processing at the Foster Farms chicken plant Wednesday because of a cockroach infestation that raised concerns about human health.
The company said only five cockroaches were found in the massive plant over the past four months, but it carried out enhanced sanitizing Wednesday and expects it to reopen soon. It also said no products have been affected.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service ordered the temporary closure just three months after threatening the same thing because of salmonella problems at the Livingston plant and two Foster Farms sites in Fresno. The plants stayed in operation after the company, one of the Northern San Joaquin Valleys largest employers, agreed to improve its safeguards.
The cockroach problem was detailed Wednesday in a five-page letter to Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster from Abdalla Amin, deputy district manager for the FSIS in Alameda. It cited five occasions from Sept. 14 through Wednesday when inspectors found the pests at various locations in the plant, but it did not specify how many were found each time.
This action is initiated based on egregious insanitary conditions observed in your establishment whereby products produced at your facility may have been rendered adulterated in violation of the Poultry Products Inspection Act, Amin wrote.
The letter said inspectors found cockroaches early Wednesday at a hand-washing sink. Earlier detections were near a faucet, on a plastic tub that comes in contact with chicken, near a sanitizer dispenser and on the floor between the liver tumbler/belt and the wall.
Amin wrote that cockroaches and other pests 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.
The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, did not warn consumers of any problems with products on the market.
Foster Farms said it was notified of all five detections by the FSIS on Wednesday. FSIS maintains a zero-tolerance policy and Foster Farms closed the Livingston facility immediately for sanitization and treatment, the companys statement said. No other facilities are affected. No products are affected. Product production has been transferred to the companys other facilities.
Foster Farms is by far the largest employer in the Livingston area, with about 3,500 people. An additional 8,500 or so work in chicken and turkey production in Turlock, Fresno and other Foster Farms locations in the West and South.
Miguel Torres, supervisor at Liberty Market in Livingston, said he was concerned that the federal order will reduce demand for the chicken. It will impact our business because were going to lose sales, he said. A lot of people were returning the chicken (after the earlier problem). It was hard for us to go through all that.
Modesto Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra contributed to this report.