The U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down a Foster Farms poultry processing plant in Livingston, Calif., Wednesday, saying it was infested with live cockroaches, which can pose a threat to public health.
The move comes even as that site and two other California chicken plants remain under heightened USDA scrutiny following two outbreaks of salmonella food poisoning in the past year, including one that is ongoing and has sickened at least 416 people in 23 states and Puerto Rico.
"Today our inspectors observed insanitary conditions in the plant," said Adam Tarr, a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
USDA officials said they couldn't confirm how many cockroaches were found or where in the fresh chicken production plant they were located. But a letter from the USDA to Foster said cockroaches were observed at a hand wash sink near an inspection station.
The agency pulled the inspectors from the plant, which effectively shuts down the operation.
Foster Farms officials confirmed the shut-down in a statement Wednesday, saying they temporarily stopped operations "to allow for enhanced sanitizing to take place."
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"The plant treatment took place this afternoon and the company expects to fully resume operation once approved for inspection by FSIS," officials said in a statement.
Company officials later issued an updated statement in which they acknowledged cockroaches were discovered at the plant on Wednesday and four other incidents going back to September 2013. The statement said the company maintains an ongoing pest control program.
"No other facilities are affected. No products are affected. Product production has been transferred to the company’s other facilities," the updated statement said.
Cockroaches are considered pests that can carry bacteria, including salmonella. Tarr said that Wednesday's shutdown was not related to the ongoing outbreak.
FSIS in October threatened to close the Livingston plant and two others in Fresno, Calif., but agreed to allow the firm to remain open while officials put a new multi-step process in place for salmonella control.
Throughout both salmonella outbreaks, Foster Farms officials issued no recalls of potentially tainted products, instead advising consumers to handle chicken properly and to cook it thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.