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How Strong Organization Saved Foster Farms from Regulatory Disaster

For years it appeared that Foster Farms, California’s largest producer of chicken, was doing an excellent job of keeping its meat salmonella-free.

When the company conducted regular salmonella testing on chicken carcasses, they usually found no trace of the dangerous bacteria. That all changed last year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered evidence that more than 600 people had contracted salmonella from Foster Farm’s chicken.

Suddenly, the company that had been the industry standard bearer for regulatory compliance found three of its key plants threatened with closure.

The ensuing investigation uncovered a startling fact: cut-up chicken parts test positive for salmonella about 25 percent of the time, while whole carcasses often show no sign of the bacteria. The discovery sent the entire poultry industry scrambling for answers.

Foster Farms took the lead and mobilized a comprehensive plan to locate the source of the salmonella contamination and eradicate it from their products. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how they executed this plan, and how tools like ManagerPlus CMMS can help other companies organize their own compliance efforts.

+ Emergency Response

Before Foster Farms could spend time worrying about where the salmonella was coming from, they had just 72 hours to come up with a plan to eliminate it from their products or face the closure of three of their plants.

The company launched their investigation by focusing on two key variables: the actual processing of the meat, and the environment in which the chickens were being raised.

Operating on narrow deadlines demands a high level of organization and efficiency. If any conclusions were to be made and quickly turned into a plan of action, communication and centralization of data were vital.

This is one of the primary ways in which CMMS solutions like ManagerPlus can be helpful to businesses. Information can be gathered from multiple locations and centralized, making it possible for management to focus on finding solutions, rather than tracking down data.

In the Foster Farm’s example, inspections of key processes and facilities could have been quickly created and immediately disseminated throughout their organization. For example, as management worked with regulators to track the source of the bacteria, they could have been using that information to create inspections that could have been started immediately.

+ A Systematic Approach

Operating within a narrow time frame can make it difficult to maintain efficiency. In the case of Foster Farms, there were questions concerning the security of their poultry facilities against pests like mice and bugs, and whether those pests were carrying salmonella from nearby orchards.

Thus, in order to be thorough, Foster Farms had to quickly check the integrity of their facilities, while performing salmonella tests on the soil in those nearby orchards. Performing these types of thorough inspections can be overwhelmingly complex without software designed to organize and track them.

Above all, it is important in these circumstances to be able to prove that inspections were performed properly. Using paper-based systems requires much more administrative effort than using CMMS solutions with mobile functionality.

When vulnerabilities are discovered, it is vital that proper measures be taken swiftly to address them. In CMMS systems with inspection tracking functionality, work orders can be tied directly to inspections, triggering immediately when an inspection fails.

These CMMS tools can save precious time when there is no time to spare.

+ Cleanliness is Key

Through their investigations, Foster Farms was able to narrow down the salmonella outbreak to the chicken houses themselves. It turned out that the salmonella had taken root in these houses, infecting all of the chickens that lived there.

The solution was to perform a deep clean of the contaminated houses and keep chickens out of them until all of the salmonella had been eradicated. And in order to prevent future outbreaks, Foster Farms invested in additional washing equipment and vaccinations.

This is another key way that CMMS solutions can help manage a regulatory emergency like the one faced by Foster Farms. Once problems have been identified, they must be rapidly integrated into existing processes.

Creating a schedule group for chicken house cleaning and maintenance in a CMMS solution, is the best way to ensure that all necessary service tasks are being performed. And by tracking these inspections digitally, a book of record will be readily available to both prove compliance, and hold the employees responsible for those inspections accountable.

Posted in CMMS ROI and Best Practices, Facilities, Manufacturing, Safety and Regulations | Comments Off