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Foster Farms Chicken Plant Closed for Cockroaches, Not Salmonella?

A Foster Farms chicken plant in Livingston, Calif., remained closed Thursday, a day after government officials shut it down because of an infestation of live cockroaches.

Neither firm officials nor U.S. Department of Agriculture officials could say when the plant might open again, or whether the “egregious insanitary conditions” detailed in a suspension notice have been corrected. The plant was closed after the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, FSIS, withdrew inspectors, which are required for operation.

But critics like Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer, said the incident raises new questions about why the government effectively closed the plant over insects but not the infection-causing bacteria.

“The question I have is why does USDA/FSIS have the authority to shutter a plant for cockroaches but not for poisoning 550 with salmonella,” he said.

The Livingston plant was one of three Foster Farms sites in California that have been under increased federal scrutiny since October after two outbreaks of salmonella poisoning tied to the firm's chicken last year. One sickened 134 people and another ongoing outbreak has sickened at least 416 in 23 states and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wednesday marked the fifth time in five months that cockroaches have been detected at the plant, the notice said. They were found in multiple locations throughout the site. Company officials said they’d sanitized the plant and were reviewing their pest control operations with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for approval.

FSIS officials said in an email that the agency has shut down other plants because of salmonella contamination. But they said officials have not been able to tie the confirmed illnesses to plant processes that result in contaminated chicken. Foster Farms has been meeting established performance standards that set limits for salmonella in whole birds, they added.

Cockroaches can carry disease-causing bacteria, such as salmonella. But FSIS officials said the roaches didn’t appear to be related to the ongoing salmonella outbreak.