USDA funds Kansas State University researchers to control Salmonella in turkey

U.S – The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has funded researchers at Kansas State University to enable them explore ways to predict Salmonella contamination in turkey flocks at pre-harvest.

In 2021, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) expressed that finding a better approach to reduce Salmonella contamination in chickens and turkeys before they are sent to the slaughterhouse is key to controlling the food-borne pathogen.

As part of the new Healthy People 2030 initiative, the agency set a goal of a 25% reduction in Salmonella illnesses over this decade.

“Presence testing has been really helpful in reducing Salmonella contamination from a production side, but we’re not necessarily seeing those reductions in public health data.

“Hopefully through evaluating the quantity of Salmonella throughout a production chain that we can start moving some of those numbers as well,” said Jessie Vipham, an Assistant Professor in the Kansas State University’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry.

The three-year research project will be conducted in partnership with Cargill, a privately held American global food corporation.

Salmonella is a gram-negative anaerobic bacterium that is responsible for approximately 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bacteria has become increasingly multi-drug resistant, making it more difficult to treat.

Vipham enlightened that the ability to identify Salmonella at the flock level gives the poultry industry an opportunity to make decisions before reaching the final stage of production.

She plans to collect samples from a commercial turkey facility throughout the value chain – from pre-harvest to processing chain. Using a rapid PCR quantification method, they hope to identify points in the process that can serve as a strong predictor of Salmonella contamination in final product.

“We really do think that we will be able to identify a sample that makes a lot of sense for the turkey industry. We also think that our data will demonstrate that quantification is a productive method for safeguarding public health,” she added.

Although the industry is constantly reducing the occurrence of Salmonella in poultry products, more than one million illnesses occur annually in the U.S. due to the pathogen. According to Watt Poultry, more than 23% of those illnesses are estimated to be attributed to chicken and turkey consumption.

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