Business · COVID-19 · Fresno

Fresno Co. public health officials push back on “tipped off” Foster Farms inspection claims

Local public health officials are countering salacious claims that Fresno County tipped off meat-packing giant Foster Farms of a state inspection into an outbreak in its local facilities.

In a statement issued to The Sun, Fresno County pointed to a number of interactions with the area’s meatpacking facilities dating back to last Fall.

Local public health inspectors conducted an unannounced site inspection of Foster Farms’ plant on Belgravia Ave. in September.

“At that time, the Department reviewed the company’s policies and procedures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 amongst their employees and completed a visual inspection of the facility to evaluate compliance,” Fresno County Public Health Director David Pomaville said.

“Conclusions from the site inspection was that Foster Farms demonstrated it had taken many steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The facility appeared to be in compliance with state COVID Industry Guidelines.” 

Two months after the inspection, a second Foster Farms plant – located on Cherry Ave. – experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

Following the outbreak, the county pre-arranged another visit in December to conduct a more in-depth review of Foster Farms’ coronavirus policies and procedures. 

Despite media reports alleging the contrary, Pomaville said the December site visit was never intended as a “surprise” given the pre-arranged nature.

Cal-OSHA requested to participate in the pre-arranged site visit as well, he added.

Pomaville said the county chooses at times to conduct pre-arranged visits as opposed to arriving unannounced in order to ensure that the proper personnel from the inspected business would be available on site to interact with public health staff. 

The county spent the day observing Foster Farms’ health safety procedures and discussing plans to combat the spread of coronavirus, while Cal-OSHA conducted its own independent investigation. 

“Following the site inspection, the facility appeared to be in compliance with state COVID Industry Guidelines,” Pomaville said. 

Pomaville said Foster Farms increased its COVID-19 testing following the inspection and removed any asymptomatic workers who tested positive, which resulted in a “greatly reduced” number of cases, which controlled the outbreak. 

After facing criticism for not publicly reporting COVID-19 cases at workplaces, Pomaville defended the county’s decision to not do so. 

“We acknowledge reporting of cases at facilities publicly has been handled differently across California,” Pomaville said. “While AB 685 provides for standard reporting to employees, the local health jurisdiction, and Cal-OSHA, it does not require disclosure of names and locations of outbreaks publicly. 

“Many businesses we work with are identified as essential infrastructure and did not have the opportunity to allow employees to simply stay home or telecommute. They remained open throughout the pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable food supply for our community and the nation. I am proud of the work the Department has done, and continues to do, to protect essential workers.” 

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.