Livingston is eager for Foster Farms plant to reopen

pguerra@modbee.comJanuary 14, 2014 

— While the city’s most visible employer remained closed for business Tuesday, it was business as usual around town, amid optimism Foster Farms soon will reopen.

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, attended a meeting at the plant Tuesday afternoon and said it’s likely to reopen Thursday, “maybe even for a shift on Wednesday.”

The company closed its chicken plant voluntarily Sunday, after reopening briefly following a three-day federal shutdown related to cockroaches found at the site. Company officials said they were closing a second time to ensure that Foster Farms has “the most stringent and effective treatment protocols in place.”

A representative of the company’s public relations firm said there was no news Tuesday regarding a potential reopening; officials earlier said they expected the most recent closure to last only a few days.

The sooner the better, said Marianne Delgado, who works at Villa’s, a restaurant near the plant. She said Tuesday that she hasn’t noticed any dropoff in business during the past couple of days, though Foster Farms employees are regular customers.

Delgado, like some others in the community, said she feels the problems have been blown out of proportion. When she heard there was a cockroach infestation, she imagined the worst, only to find out that the closure came after finding five cockroaches in the plant over a period of several months.

“It sounded like the place was crawling with them,” she said. “I really feel bad for them. I feel bad for (company President) Ron Foster.”

Though the plant remained closed Tuesday, a regular flow of semis could be seen entering and leaving the parking lot. Production from the Livingston site has shifted to two other plants in Fresno, Foster said earlier.

Nearly a third of the Livingston plant’s 3,500 employees were working on the cleaning effort, the company said. More employees are expected to return to work today. Production workers who were losing shifts could make them up with overtime and weekend work in the coming weeks once the plant reopens, officials have said.

Mattos said company employees were conducting a walk-through of the newest safety and cleaning procedures Tuesday, and that Foster Farms officials were operating with an abundance of caution.

He was optimistic the brand will be able to hang onto its reputation as being among the best-run in the industry, calling it “bizarre” that Foster Farms would be closed because of inspectors finding cockroaches.

“I think (the voluntary closure) was a good decision,” he said.

Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter @PattyGuerra.

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