In addition to being used as a source of eggs, a lot of Americans eat chickens. For many that means purchasing chicken at a local grocer rather than raising their own. Because of this, those consumers are dependent upon the supposed following of rules and regulations set forth by the USDA. While the USDA eye is watchful, it may not be watchful enough, considering that Foster Farms had been found to have live cockroach contamination issues on the dates of September 14th, November 4th, and December 28th of the year 2013 and again on January 7th of 2014 before the plant was finally closed. It is also noteworthy that the plant is under investigation over an antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak and their products have sickened more than 400 people in recent months.
The presence of cockroaches does not go hand-in-hand with antibiotic resistant salmonella, but both of these issues are extremely problematic. Why this plant was allowed to operate from September through January with a known cockroach problem is troubling to many. Also troubling is the fact that Foster Farms has been connected to over 400 illnesses related to antibiotic resistant salmonella yet was allowed to keep on processing rather than immediately being forced to rectify the problem. Had the cockroach problem not presented itself, how high would that number of salmonella illnesses climbed before enough was enough? As it turned out, Foster Farms was threatened with plant closure months ago regarding salmonella, but since they 'promised' to make improvements and safeguard against such illness, they were allowed to stay open until just yesterday. Oh, and by the way, seven total strains of salmonella were found there, with six of those proving to be antibiotic resistant and four strains being resistant to multiple drugs. The hospitalization rate for those infected with Foster Farms salmonella has also been twice that reported in typical salmonella cases.
While the company claims to have a reduction in sales, it is hardly a surprise. Many of us make poor eating choices all the time, myself included, but knowingly purchasing chicken from a plant associated with cockroach infestation and antibiotic resistant salmonella is not one I am willing to make. In fact, the state of California, where the Foster Farms plant in question is located, had the highest rate of salmonella illness in the entire country for the year of 2013. Keep in mind that the life cycle of a cockroach allows for 9-13 months of life before reaching full adulthood, so if adult cockroaches were found, they were present for quite a while.
Antibiotic salmonella is a problem that has been growing in frequency for quite some time now, and while dangerous, there seems to be no sign of it stopping or slowing down. Commercially produced cattle, poultry, and swine are often provided with antibiotics as part of their feeding regimen thanks to 1950's research that indicated antibiotics would make those animals grow bigger and thus be more valuable in terms of meat weight. Antibiotics are also utilized as preventative care rather than used to treat illnesses on a case-by-case basis as they occur, making those drugs ineffective over time.
While salmonella is naturally occurring in chickens, antibiotics are not. Combining the two has proven to be very dangerous and we can only hope that the acceptance of antibiotic use changes before the damage done becomes irreversible. As always, wash your hands after coming into contact with raw meat and cook meat thoroughly before consumption. We may not be able to control how commercial food animals are processed and what those animals are fed, but we can control the way meat products are raised and treated in our own homes. Be diligent in your animal care and that of yourself as it clearly does not pay to rely on someone else to safeguard your health.