USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) officials recommended recalling poultry products tainted with Salmonella Heidleberg, produced by California’s Foster Farms facilities as early as October 25, 2013, almost nine months before the recall went into effect, reveals documents released today by Food & Water Watch. The documents were obtained this week through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on October 17, 2013 by the national advocacy organization in response to the 2013-2014 food borne illness outbreak.
“Why it took so long for FSIS and Foster Farms to take action to prevent further illnesses is still baffling to us,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “These documents show that some staff at FSIS wanted to protect consumers from further exposure to potentially dangerous chicken, but their bosses were too timid to do so. The federal government needs to close the loophole in FSIS’s statutory authority so the agency can do its job to protect the public and finally act without ambiguity.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this particular outbreak sickened 634 consumers, of whom 38 percent were hospitalized. The strain of salmonella involved in this outbreak was resistant to multiple antibiotics, which contributed to the high rate of hospitalization.
“This outbreak is also a stark reminder that 80 percent of the antibiotics in the United States are used in agriculture, largely to compensate for filthy, crowded conditions, not medical purposes. These lifesaving drugs are losing their medical efficacy due to overuse on factory farms and now some of the bacteria consumers are exposed to through meat and poultry are resistant to antibiotics. That is why Congress needs to pass H.R. 2303, the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act of 2015 introduced by Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter,” added Hauter.
Three emails written by FSIS staff in late October 2013 were of particular note. Two indicated that the staff found a “compelling link” between a sickened consumer and products from Foster Farms. An October 28, 2013 email revealed that an FSIS staffer had recommended on October 25, 2013 a recall of all poultry products produced on September 9, 2013 at FSIS Establishment P7632 – a Foster Farms facility in Fresno, Calif. Products from this plant were not recalled until July 12, 2014.