Kosher Chicken Processor Cited for Safety and Health Violations, Faces $317K in Penalties


A kosher chicken farm was cited by a federal Department of Labor agency for 10 safety and health violations and faces $317,477 in proposed penalties.

A Berks County kosher chicken farm was cited in September by a federal Department of Labor agency for 10 safety and health violations — including reports that a worker’s thumb was amputated by a machine — and faces $317,477 in proposed penalties.

The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found “a deficient system for protecting workers from the hazards associated with the unexpected start-up of machinery” at Birdsboro Kosher Farms in Birdsboro.

Other violations included uncovered floor holes, a deficient hearing conservation program, inadequate egress  signage, a failure to secure compressed gas cylinders, a failure to provide sanitary personal protective equipment or specialty foot protection at no cost to employees, and the failure to post permit-required confined-space signs.

“A penalty of $317,000 is very significant — it is a large penalty,” said Timothy Braun, the acting OSHA director in Harrisburg. “It requires an extensive review on our part.”

Birdsboro Kosher Farms had 15 business days from receiving the citations, which were issued Sept. 2, to respond. Braun said the company responded on Sept. 9 with a notice of contest, which disputes some aspects of the allegations.

The matter will go before the Occupations Safety and Health Review Commission, where possibilities include a settlement or possibly litigation, Braun said.

OSHA noted that prior inspections in 2013, 2014 and 2015 also turned up safety deficiencies that led to other fines and calls for corrective action.

Braun said some of the deficiencies noted recently are repeat infractions, while others are new.

Meantime, a low-wage advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., is monitoring the situation.

“These are really horrible conditions,” said Deborah Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project, noting that this is one of the worst cases she’s seen. “These workers are going to go deaf permanently.”

Berkowitz, a former senior policy advisor at OSHA, said most fines levied by the agency are for a few thousand dollars. Out of 38,000 inspections OSHA conducts annually, only about 300 had fines topping $40,000, meaning the $317,000 fine is extreme.

“Consumers need to use their leverage to tell food processors to comply with the law,” she said, adding that the plant workers are non-unionized migrant workers.

Braun noted that OSHA does not have the authority to take more extreme measures, such as shutting down the plant, but will be keeping an eye on the facility.

“We would expect Birdsboro to correct the allegations … and report back to us,” he said.

Birdsboro Kosher Farms did not reply to requests for comment. Its website said the company will “promote safe working conditions.”

The facility was formerly known as MVP Kosher Foods, which abruptly closed in 2012, according to the Reading Eagle. The newspaper said MVP Kosher owed Exeter Township more than $200,000 in unpaid sewer bills and was also dealing with OSHA safety issues and complaints from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Birdsboro Kosher Farms opened in the same facility a year later under new ownership.

In the 2013 Eagle article, owner Issy Perlmutter is quoted as saying the EPA, DEP, township and legal issues had been resolved.

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