Foster Farms explains $75M in sanitation improvements

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Foster Farms opens up publicly about previous problems with salmonella contamination and other health and safety issues.

Foster Farms is responding to a report we brought you Thursday. Federal documents reveal hundreds of health and safety violations at its Fresno and Livingston poultry plants.

Foster Farms says it's drastically changed how it processes and handles chicken and its plants in Fresno and Livingston. The company says it's now 99 percent compliant with all USDA regulations.

Three hundred pages of federal inspections at Foster Farms outline fecal matter contamination, and a host of other violations from January 2009 - March 2014.

Foster Farms says on the heels of last fall's chicken recall for salmonella contamination, and cockroach infestation, things now are much different inside the walls of its Central Valley processing plants.

"What we really did was focus on solving the problem," said Foster Farms Communications Manager Ira Brill. "We drove down salmonella from 20-25 percent to 3 percent."

While Action News was granted an interview, we were not allowed inside the plant to see the changes for ourselves. The company cited a "bio-security hazard."

Still, Brill says Foster Farms has spent $75 million on sanitation improvements.

"In many cases we went into ranches and refurbished them," Brill said. "On the lines we added additional sanitation controls. And it becomes a very expensive process. We think consumers deserve that and they should be able to buy chicken they can have confidence in."

The company, he says, also doubled its microbiological testing.

These prior violations were dug up by the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that's pushing for transparency at Foster Farms and urging the family-owned company to eliminate antibiotic use for fear of creating resistant bacteria strains.

"What these violations show is that the company appears to be systematically violating its own food safety plans right through the salmonella outbreak," said the NRDC's Jonathan Kaplan.

But Foster Farms says those safety plans are much improved and approved by the USDA inspection process. Changes Foster Farms appears to be sharing with its competitors.

"Everything they've learned they're giving it to the industry," said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation. "They're not charging anyone. They're offering their expertise to help them do what they've done."

While the NRDC questions whether Foster Farms should be trusted, Foster Farms says it's now an industry leader for safe food.

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