By Jane M. Caldwell
“If you look across all of the outbreak data from products that FSIS regulates, the greatest number of illnesses are Salmonella infections from poultry,” Sandra Eskin, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, recently told Food Technology. “That really requires us to take another look at how we address this issue.”
In the past few years, the agency has made the reevaluation of strategies to control Salmonella in poultry and its impact on public health a top priority. In 2022, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed a regulatory framework for a new comprehensive strategy to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributed to poultry (USDA 2022). In a separate but related process, FSIS will declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products. Although these products are clearly labeled as not-ready-to-eat (NRTE), the agency said in a press release, they still have the potential to be consumed raw or undercooked by consumers, putting consumers at greater risk for foodborne illness.
New data support the agency’s reevaluation efforts. For example, in its most recent report, the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, a tri-agency group created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and USDA-FSIS, estimated that more than 23% of foodborne Salmonella illnesses are due to poultry consumption, nearly 17% from chicken and more than 6% from turkey (IFSAC 2021). Over the years, the poultry industry has collaborated with scientists and worked to reduce these numbers by implementing a variety of hurdles and interventions in the barn and in the processing plant. While they have been able to reduce Salmonella numbers on raw poultry products, this has not translated into an improvement of human health. Despite a downward trend in Salmonella detected from chicken carcasses and ground turkey, Salmonella infections in the United States continue to climb or remain constant from year to year (FoodNet Fast 2022).
In addition, the Pew Charitable Trust published a report with data summarizing America’s Salmonella problem (PEW 2021). The organization stated that under present FSIS policies, efforts to curb contamination are judged by the percentage of samples that contain any amount or serotype of Salmonella. Using presence/absence testing for Salmonella prevalence, data has shown a decline in contamination rates over the past 20 years for certain chicken products. However, the number of outbreaks associated with chicken products rose from 2000 to 2018. The report concluded that the current FSIS rules do not reduce the public health risk of Salmonella infection.
“That is the real driver for this [strategy],” Eskin adds. “Salmonella infections, they’re not budging.” Because of this disconnect, FSIS is moving toward declaring Salmonella as an adulterant in certain raw chicken products. Currently, FSIS is considering the limit at 1 CFU/g for these products, a level that the agency believes will significantly reduce the risk of illness from consuming these products. In a statement, FSIS said it also will seek comment on whether a different standard for adulteration—such as zero tolerance or one based on specific serotype—would be more appropriate.Click here to see more...