Precedence-setting Food Safety Case: Foster Chicken Farm found Liable in Salmonella Case

Meatingplace reported that a jury in Arizona returned a precedent-setting verdict in favor of 5 ½ years old boy (Noah Craten)   who had brain surgery in 2013, as a result of a massive brain abscess. The doctors determined that the abscess had been caused by bacterial meningitis due to Salmonella Heidelberg infection from what was believed to be chicken meat produced by Foster Poultry Farms.

Although the USDA does not consider Salmonella an adulterant in raw chicken, and even though cooking the chicken will kill the bacteria, the case establishes that chicken producers can be held liable for Salmonella contamination.

The jury on March 1 returned a verdict in the amount of $6.5 million in favor of Noah. The jury concluded that Foster Farm was negligent was based on microbiological and epidemiological evidence alone. Fluid removed from the abscess during surgery showed that the Salmonella bacteria present in the abscess matched one of the strains in the Foster Farm’s outbreak.

The jury seems to reject the argument that Salmonella contamination is natural to raw chicken. In a verdict that is a first of its kind, the jury found Foster Farm to be negligent in producing Salmonella Heidelberg contaminated product. It is a first to have the verdict based solely on epidemiological and microbiological evidence.

The jury attributed 30% of the fault to Foster Farms and 70% to family members for their preparation of the chicken. The net verdict against the family was $1.95 million.

Eric Hageman, the lead trial attorney for Noah Craten, claimed that the verdict established a precedent that could change the poultry industry. “Traditionally, Foster Farms and other poultry producers have argued that they are under absolutely no obligation to address even pervasive Salmonella contamination. The jury, in this case, said enough is enough. Clean up your act.” The jury’s verdict, Hageman said, “showed that Foster Farms could not simply hide behind USDA ‘approval’ of its chicken” and was “a rejection of the argument that poultry companies can produce contaminated product and then blame consumers who get sick from eating it.”

Noah Craten case was part of an extensive Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak investigated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from March 1, 2013, to July 11, 2014. In this outbreak, 634 persons were infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg from 29 states and Puerto Rico, from March 1, 2013, to July 11, 2014. 38% of the sick persons were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported. The outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg were resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics, as was the strain isolated from the abscess.

This case is groundbreaking and sets a precedent for food safety in the poultry industry.

According to Meatingplace  Foster Farms issued the following statement in response to the verdict: “Since 2013, Foster Farms has instituted a multi-hurdle Salmonella control program and committed to a company-wide Salmonella prevalence level of 5 percent in whole body chickens and parts. This compares to the USDA permissible level of 9.8 percent for whole body chickens and 15.4 percent for parts. Foster Farms’ current food safety performance record is recognized as being among the best in the US poultry industry, and the company is committed to advancing food safety for the benefit of consumers, customers, and the poultry industry.”

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