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Foster Farms chicken plant shut down by cockroaches

Karis Hustad
Friday, 10 Jan 2014 | 11:37 AM ET
Foster Farms chicken is seen for sale in a grocery store in Los Angeles.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images
Foster Farms chicken is seen for sale in a grocery store in Los Angeles.

Chicken à la cockroach, anyone? If the thought makes you cringe, you're not alone: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut down a Foster Farms poultry plant on Wednesday after finding live cockroaches at the plant on five separate occasions.

The Livingston, Calif. facility was shut down only months after the USDA threatened to shutter the same plant, along with two other Foster Farms plants in Fresno, Calif., due to a salmonella outbreak linked to the company's chicken.

Cockroaches were found near a hand washing sink, on a tub that also comes in contact with products, and between "the liver tumbler/belt and the wall", among other locations, according to a five-page letter from Abdalla Amin, deputy district manager for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in Alameda, Calif., to Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster on Jan. 8.

(Read more: Putrid poultry: US chicken covered in 'superbug')

Tom McHugh | Photo Researchers | Getty Images

"These recent findings of egregious insanitary conditions related to an Equal Opportunity Provider and Employer cockroach infestation in your facility indicate that your establishment is not being operated and maintained in sanitary condition, or in a manner to ensure that product is not adulterated," Amin writes in the letter.

A statement from Foster Farms says five cockroaches were found by FSIS, though Amin's letter did not specify a number. The company insists it is committed to the same sanitation standards as FSIS.

"A single incident is not acceptable, and we are committed to a zero tolerance policy," the statement reads.

(Read more: McDonald's reptile ruckus verdict: It's chicken)

Consumer Reports tests for sick chicken
Consumer Reports says 48 million people get sick from salmonella every year. CNBC's Jane Wells reports Consumer Reports tested more than 300 chicken breasts bought across the U.S., and found bacteria in nearly all of them.

The cockroach problem comes just four months after the USDA issued a public health alert for chicken products produced at three Foster Farms plants (including the Livingston plant) that were linked to an outbreak of over 278 cases of salmonella in 18 states.

"Illnesses were linked to Foster Farms brand chicken through epidemiologic, laboratory and trace back investigations conducted by local,state, and federal officials," the USDA says in a release announcing the alert.

The FSIS letter did not mention the salmonella outbreak in connection with the most recent plant closure.

Foster Farms products are sold mainly on the West Coast. Thus far, the USDA has not issued any recalls or public health alerts about Foster Farms poultry products related to the roach problem. The letter says the company must detail a "full corrective and preventative plan" before the plant can reopen.

Foster Farms says no products were affected. In the meantime, it has moved production to its other plants and expects a treatment on Wednesday would solve the issue.

—Karis Hustad for The Christian Science Monitor.