Is Foster Farms a food safety pioneer or a persistent offender?

Dan Charles of NPR reports that Foster Farms, a chicken producer in California, just can’t seem to stop bleeding bad news.

Foster-Farms-Chicken-BreastAn outbreak of Salmonella linked to Foster Farms poultry has sickened at least 621 people in 29 states and Puerto Rico since 2013, shows no signs of stopping.

But Foster Farms may now be one of the country’s cleanest, safest sources of chicken products. That’s according to the USDA, which has been testing chicken parts that are processed at Foster Farms plants.

After the USDA threatened to shut down the plants in October, the company called in food safety experts and set up new to eliminate salmonella contamination. It’s made a difference, the government says. At Foster Farms plants, fewer than 5 per cent of chicken parts test positive for salmonella. At other companies, it’s typically about 20 per cent.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California called on other chicken companies to follow Foster Farms’ example. David Acheson, former chief medical officer of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and a former associate commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, praised the company for being “willing to devote the time and resources to becoming a world leader in food safety.”

If Foster Farms or any other company wants to be a real food safety leader, testing data will be publicly available and microbial food safety will be marketed at retail so consumers can choose – and not just choice amongst soundbites.