Rotting chickens

Missoula health officers are working to deal with tens of thousands of pounds of rotting chickens inside a stolen semi that was abandoned at the Missoula Wye.

WYE – A big white trailer parked at a truck stop isn’t likely to turn heads, unless it’s been sitting there for days, dripping the juices of rotting chickens and attracting flies.

Missoula County sheriff’s deputies discovered the 53-foot trailer at Town Pump’s Flying J truck stop Tuesday. Owned by Dixie River Freight in Nampa, Idaho, the trailer is loaded with 35,000 pounds of raw chicken valued at $80,000.

And the chicken is turning rancid.

On Wednesday, Paige Pavalone, public information officer for the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, said the truck and trailer were reported stolen within the past few days by Dixie River Freight.

The trucker, a Dixie River employee, had texted his company saying he’d return the chicken in exchange for ransom money.

When the company declined, the suspect abandoned the trailer at the Flying J and left in the rig. The truck was reported stolen, but the trailer wasn’t entered into the national database, leaving deputies to discover it by happenstance this week.

Pavalone said the local sheriff’s office is acting as the recovering agency, so does not know if the suspect had been located. Calls to the Nampa Police Department weren’t returned Wednesday.

“I noticed (the trailer) sitting there when I came out Saturday,” said Crystal Friede, manager of the truck stop. “I keep an eye on how long trucks have been sitting there. You need to know if someone’s in the truck. In this case, it’s chicken.”

The truck was abandoned on the asphalt pad north of Flying J. There, the chicken juice dripped from the container, staining the ground with a gooey red and translucent liquid.

The flies had gathered around the juices in the 90-degree heat and a faint odor of rotting meat wafted in the air.

Friede said county health officials visited the truck stop Wednesday searching for a way to discard the rotting carcasses. The trailer hasn’t been opened or moved since its discovery, and it’s unknown how the chickens are packaged.

“They’re dripping all over the ground,” Friede said. “It’s turning colors out there. I didn’t know chicken was red.”


Shannon Therriault, environmental health supervisor with the Missoula City-County Health Department, said deputies notified her office of the problem Tuesday.

A county sanitarian inspected the trailer as the Health Department contacted Dixie River’s insurance company, along with Republic Services of Missoula, to find a solution.

“We’re typically involved in truck wrecks, making sure compromised food is discarded and doesn’t enter the food chain,” Therriault said. “Obviously, this chicken isn’t going to get used at this point, but the question is, what needs to happen to dispose of it safely?”

Therriault said a number of issues need to be resolved before the trailer can be moved. The insurance company must decide if the trailer can be cleaned for future food transport, or if it’s a total loss.

Sanitation officials will also decide if the truck can be wrapped and moved to the dump for unloading, or if the contents need to be unloaded into a leak-proof container on site.

“It would be ideal to only have to deal with it once,” Therriault said. “We don’t want rotting chicken dripping from here to who knows where. If it’s leaking a little now, if you move it, more can happen.”

Health Department employees wouldn’t unload the rotting chicken. Republic Services has an expert on staff to deal with rotten poultry, Therriault said.

“We’ll try to figure out, between parties, the best way to have the least amount of contact with the contents,” Therriault said. “Whether the truck is cleanable and can be sanitized – if it’s going to carry food again – is up to the insurance company.”

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Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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