The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Foster Farms has a cockroach problem. How can it recover?

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A day after re-opening a production facility in the Central Valley that had been closed by federal inspectors last week, poultry giant Foster Farms decided to once again close the plant Sunday, this time voluntarily.

The USDA said it found “egregious insanitary conditions” at the Livingston plant south of Modesto, with inspectors seeing cockroaches on five separate visits in recent months.

Aside from the major gross factor, there’s a real danger to consumers, according to Sandra Eskin, director of Pew’s food safety program.

“Cockroaches can carry salmonella and that is a concern because we have an outgoing outbreak at the plant in Livingston, California, and a couple others operated by Foster Farms,” said Eskin.

We tried to talk to someone at Foster Farms, but the company hasn’t been speaking to the media, referring all inquires to an outside firm.

Dennis Gaschen, a public relations consultant who also teaches at Cal State Fullerton, says that’s an unwise strategy.

“You’ve got to have someone from the company speaking, because it appears you’re hiding behind that.” said Gaschen, “It always lessens the sincerity and impact by having statements released by a PR agency that aren’t employees.”

Gaschen says Foster Farms needs to look at their operations and fix whatever is wrong immediately, because right now every issue is magnified.

For instance, the cockroach problem gets people talking again about last Fall’s salmonella outbreak at three Foster plants – including Livingston - that made more than 400 people sick.

“Every new issue brings up old issues, so it just compounds itself,” said Gaschen.

In a statement, Foster Farms said it expects the Livingston closure to be brief, lasting several days. The company carefully avoided ever mentioning the word “cockroach.”

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