Every time I read about a new safety failure at Foster Farms, I get more worried about the company’s use of antibiotics. In January, NRDC and other public interest groups asked Foster Farms to commit to antibiotic stewardship practices and disclose its use of antibiotics. We still haven’t received any direct response. Instead, the company has made a few general statements about antibiotic use (including on its website), assuring us that it is using these drugs properly, but providing few actual details.
Meanwhile, headlines about bacteria that can make you sick and food safety violations at Foster Farms keep piling up, hardly inspiring our trust that Foster Farms has it all under control. On Friday, Reuters reported that Foster Farms is recalling nearly 40,000 lbs of chicken because of Listeria contamination. Listeria is a scary pathogen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 1600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis occur annually in the United States, making Listeria more deadly (ie greater chance of an infection becoming fatal) than Salmonella, including Salmonella Heidelberg, which triggered the previous Foster Farms recall. The Mayo Clinic reports that Listeria can multiply under refrigeration and it even survives freezing.
Before Friday’s news, we read about:
- Antibiotic resistant Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken;
- Fecal matter violations at its processing plants,
- A plant closure due to cockroach infestation; and
- Foster Farms’ failure to respond to requested information about its antibiotic use to the media.
CDC reported that many of the Salmonella Heidelberg samples taken from outbreak patients and chicken samples linked to Foster Farms were resistant to one or more antibiotics that are important for humans. By spreading antibiotic resistant bacteria on its chicken, Foster Farms has contributed to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. While that outbreak was deemed to be officially over in July, the company has still not explained why so many of the Salmonella were antibiotic resistant.
If Foster Farms is repeatedly giving its chickens antibiotics that are important for human medicine, it may continue to spread bacteria that are resistant to those antibiotics. Hopefully these headlines about recalls, cockroaches, fecal matter, Salmonella, and now Listeria, are not indicative of the company’s lack of care in using these precious medicines.