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Foster Farms employee recognized for innovative efforts against salmonella
Robert OConnor 1
Robert O'Connor

Rather than making headlines for a salmonella outbreak, senior vice president of technical services at Foster Farms and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Robert O’Connor is making headlines for the complete opposite.

During the Food Safety Leadership Awards at the Food Safety Summit in Baltimore this week, O’Connor was selected as the recipient of the 2015 Food Safety Innovation Award for his pivotal role in developing an all-encompassing salmonella control program, which was implemented by Foster Farms to control the bacteria and eliminate potential outbreaks.

“I am honored to receive this award and would like to recognize my staff and company leadership who applied countless time to this effort, as well as our food safety advisors who also contributed to the program’s success,” said O’Connor.

“I want to emphasize how much of a team effort it was, bringing the situation under control took all facets and resources of the company,” continued O’Connor. “Everyone who worked on this issue takes part in this award.”

For this award, O’Connor was selected by NSF International’s independent panel of food and safety experts.

“We are pleased to recognize Dr. O’Connor’s food safety contributions with an NSF International Food Safety Leadership Award in the category of innovation,” said Kevan Lawlor, NSF International President and CEO. “His leadership and enthusiasm in applying science-based methods and encouraging information sharing embodies the spirit of this award and our mission of protecting and improving human health.”

Through his salmonella control program, O’Connor has recruited and formed a Food Safety Advisory Board, comprised of food safety experts, to address Foster Farm’s strategic approach to salmonella and to also evaluate further practices to enable progress.

With this program, Foster Farms can hopefully say good riddance to salmonella outbreaks likened to those of the past, including the 2013 outbreak where the United States Department of Agriculture issued a public health alert regarding raw chicken that was packaged at three Foster Farms facilities in California, and the outbreak during the following year, which linked a multistate onset of Salmonella Heidelberg infections to Foster Farms chicken.

Since its inception, O’Connor’s program has been applied to all of Foster Farm’s operations and has played a crucial role in helping the company achieve an impressively low salmonella prevalence in raw percents of five percent or less, which is three times lower than the industry-leading level of 15.4 percent that was proposed by the USDA in January, and five times lower than the USDA-measured industry benchmark in 2011-2012 of 25 percent.

“All of us at Foster Farms are proud of Dr. O’Connor’s accomplishments and his dedication to continual advancement in poultry health and food safety—not only for the benefit of our company, our consumers and customers, but for the entire industry,” said Ron Foster, Foster Farms President and CEO. “Dr. O’Connor’s dedication is helping to advance poultry production throughout the United States.”

Not only is O’Connor’s salmonella control program proved beneficial to Foster Farms, it has also improved salmonella control efforts nationwide as it has been shared with the USDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other members of the poultry industry.

“Food safety is a complex issue that requires collaboration and data sharing,” said O’Connor. “All producers have a stake in improving the quality of American foods and the welfare of the birds in their care.”