Hoping to help the U.S. poultry industry improve food safety nationwide, Foster Farms recently shared key components of its Salmonella reduction program with government officials and agribusiness leaders at the Delmarva Poultry Industry’s National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production. Foster Farms developed the intensive data collection and analysis program, which the company says has significantly contributed to dramatic Salmonella reduction in its raw poultry.

The $75 million program was created after a Salmonella outbreak that began in 2013 was traced to Foster Farms products and caused 634 people in the United States and Puerto Rico to become sick. The program has been successful, the company stated, as Foster Farms has achieved its goal of reaching less than a 5 percent rate of Salmonella presence on raw chicken parts.

The program’s five key principles are collaboration, data collection, data analysis, action and result measurement. 

“While Salmonella occurs naturally in poultry, our program demonstrates that the application of data collection and analysis can contribute to significant reductions and control,” said Dr. Robert O’Connor, Foster Farms’ senior vice president for technical services. “At Foster Farms, we believe food safety is a shared responsibility. That is why we are sharing what we’ve learned with the industry. Salmonella is a national issue that producers and regulators can address together to benefit consumers.”

O’Connor provided an overview of Foster Farms’ system-wide data management, saying the program is a holistic, multi-hurdle approach that begins before birds enter the ranch and continues through product purchase. O’Connor identified the following five elements as key to Salmonella reduction:

  • Collaboration and information sharing with all stakeholders is necessary. Those stakeholders include national and state health and regulatory agencies as well as external advisors and other producers. The company formed a Food Safety Advisory Board (FSAB) to inform and validate its strategic approach. As part of this collaboration, O’Connor leads a National Chicken Council (NCC) committee on Salmonella reduction at the parts level.
  • Extensive data collection: Salmonella sampling is done during live production at the ranch and throughout processing. Foster Farms operates an internal microbiology lab and has doubled internal annual testing from 80,000 to 160,000 tests. Foster Farms says it is the only producer continuously conducting internal Salmonella testing 365 days a year.
  • Analysis of internal data: Foster Farms has introduced new sampling programs including a rigorous bio-mapping process. Foster Farms examined more than 8,000 samples prior to production to identify trends at individual ranches and environmental factors including location and potential impact from neighboring properties.
  • Acting on data: Based on the results of its bio-mapping study, Foster Farms developed new procedures for environmental control in and surrounding the ranch houses that effectively eliminated salmonella between flock placements. Adjustments to operations, facility equipment and processing-plant-employee training further improved food safety.
  • Measuring results: Foster Farms now continuously measures Salmonella incidence at all stages of production to ensure control on an ongoing basis and to anticipate natural variations affecting bird health. The company has observed continual declines in Salmonella incidence in packaged parts over the last seven months, and has consistently maintained an incidence of under five percent – one-fifth of the industry average.