Ron Foster, the president and CEO of California-based Foster Farms, announced Thursday that he will step down from those positions within the poultry company, according to the Modesto Bee. However, he will remain an owner and board member.
Foster, 56, has served for 11 years as head of the company that his grandparents founded 75 years ago. He will remain as president and CEO until a replacement is named.
Beginning in early 2013, Foster led the company through two high-profile Salmonella Heidelberg outbreaks. The first sickened at least 134 people, primarily in Washington and Oregon, while the second sickened at least 634 people, including 490 Californians.
At the same time, under Foster’s leadership, the company has been celebrated by public figures, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), for becoming an industry leader in lowering Salmonella contamination. In July, the city council of Livingston, CA, where Foster Farms is headquartered, presented Foster with a key to the city.
Recent Food Safety and Inspection Service data suggest that fewer than 5 percent of Foster Farms chicken parts are contaminated with Salmonella, compared to the industry average of about 20 percent. Despite those numbers, the company has made more headlines for its Salmonella problems than any other in the poultry industry.
“I have greatly enjoyed the past 11 years as your CEO,” Foster said in a letter to employees announcing his resignation. “During this period, we have witnessed some of the most challenging and some of the most rewarding times in our company’s history. I am confident that Foster Farms is positioned to do great things.”
Company executives reportedly told the Modesto Bee that the two recent Salmonella outbreaks led to a 25-percent drop in sales, which have since recovered.