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Foster Farms in Kelso plagued by food safety violations

A Foster Farms processing plant in Kelso, Wash. was written up for dozens of violations in 2014, after the company said it improved food safety following a Salmonella outbreak.

KGW Staff

Portland, Ore. — A Foster Farms processing plant in Kelso, Wash. was written up for dozens of violations in 2014, according to federal inspection reports.

KGW obtained reports from the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The reports, dated from March to September 2014, show 40 separate violations of food safety rules at the Kelso plant during the six month period.

"There were multiple times when food safety problems were identified and then not addressed," said Christopher Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America in Washington D.C.

[ID=23512223]Reports show on July 9, 2014 an inspector found fecal material on a raw chicken.

"The fecal material was found on the inside left hip/thigh area consisting of dark green creamy material," wrote the government inspector.

"You shouldn't have fecal matter on chickens," said Waldrop. "That presents a risk to consumers because they could get sick if they consume that chicken or other chickens that were processed at the same time."

"The establishment employee moving the combo bid, who didn't see the bird on the floor, kicked the bird with booted foot two to three times before noticing the bird on the floor," wrote the inspector. "This same establishment employee picked the whole bird that he had kicked up off of the floor and placed it on the same floor salvage/reprocessing table where the other five whole uninspected birds lay."On March 19, 2014, a government inspector reported an employee placed a raw chicken that fell on the floor with other birds that had already been cleaned.

On several occasions, inspectors complained the processing line was moving too quickly inside Foster Farm's Kelso operation.

"Line speed really drives the speed of the work," said Waldrop. "If the line is going very fast, which means the birds are going down the line very fast, there's an opportunity for food safety problems to be missed."

Foster Farms said it is making improvements after several high-profile Salmonella cases, including an outbreak that started in June 2012. That outbreak sickened dozens of people, most in Oregon and Washington.

"Foster Farms is committed to the highest levels of food safety and regrets any illness that may have previously been associated with any of its products," wrote the company in a statement to KGW. The company declined requests for an on-camera interview.

In 2013, Foster Farms developed a $75 million food safety program. The company said Salmonella shows up in less than 5 percent of its raw poultry parts. That's less than the industry average of 25 percent.

It is not illegal for companies to sell poultry contaminated with salmonella. The USDA also doesn't have the ability to shut down processors if they fail too many tests.

In January, the USDA proposed new testing standards for chicken to help reduce rates of Salmonella.

"We are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a written statement.

The USDA is also proposing to list every facility's rating online.

"We really need to know what is happening in these plants," said Waldrop.