Foster Farms’ $75 million effort to reduce Salmonella incidence on its raw chicken products is yielding results, according to data released by the company as part of its 75th anniversary celebration on June 16. For the 10-week period ending June 7, Foster Farms reports that the average incidence rate of Salmonella-positive chicken parts was 2.13 percent in the company’s testing.

Salmonella is more prevalent in the environment in warmer weather, and Foster Farms’ data reflects this as the six- and four-week averages were 2.99 and 2.44 percent, respectively. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) baseline study testing the incidence of Salmonella positives in chicken parts, which was completed in August 2012, estimated an industry average rate of around 25 percent. Foster Farms reports that its internally generated data has been shared with the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We’ve achieved these results by taking a multi-hurdle approach that attacks Salmonella wherever it can present itself – at the breeder level, on the farm and in the plant,” said Dr. Robert O’Connor, senior vice president technical services at Foster Farms. “We are actively sharing what we have learned with government officials, the industry and retailers in the interest of helping to create a safer food supply across the nation.”

Live-side Salmonella interventions

Foster Farms reports that it has taken several steps to help reduce Salmonella incidence on raw chicken products. Breeder hen suppliers are required to supply Salmonella-free replacement hens as documented by testing results. Breeder and meat bird farms have heightened levels of biosecurity with particular attention paid to nests and egg-handling equipment on breeder farms. Houses have been improved to further restrict the ability of rodent and insect pests to enter the houses. Probiotics are included in all feeds.

Plant interventions

A series of new, multistep processes for Salmonella control has been developed by the company with the input of national food safety experts. Foster Farms reports increasing the frequency of equipment sanitization at every point of contact with raw products, from the processing area to finished packaging.

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Additional systems are being installed to maintain the sanitary condition of conveyor belts that transfer the products from processing equipment and into finished packaging. For specialty product lines, such as marinated chicken, the company reports that it uses non-chemical interventions to reduce possible contamination.

Food Safety Advisory Board

Foster Farms has formed a Food Safety Advisory Board (FSAB) comprised of food safety professionals with backgrounds in microbiology, public health, animal sciences, food safety operations and regulatory standards. The FSAB has been working closely with the company to validate best practices, evaluate emerging technologies and to implement new Salmonella controls and facility safeguards. The board is led by David Acheson, M.D., former chief medical officer at the USDA FSIS.

According to the company, FSAB members have conducted a review of plant processes and equipment. Foster Farms credits implementation of the board’s recommendations for significant improvements in Salmonella control.

At the farm level, the FSAB has guided extensive biomapping of the company-owned farms which supply hatching eggs and meat birds for processing to identify opportunities to reduce Salmonella within the natural environment. This has included analysis of the ranch perimeter and soil in addition to thorough sanitation and process improvements within each ranch. The company is introducing additional biosecurity practices to further prevent the introduction of bacteria from outside sources. Extensive sampling has taken place before and after each improvement to measure efficacy.