USDA proposes new strategy to control Salmonella contamination in poultry products

U.S – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has released a proposed regulatory framework for a new strategy to control Salmonella contamination in poultry products and reduce foodborne illnesses attributed to these products.

The proposed framework has been shaped by months of information-gathering and discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, researchers, and scientists.

“We know that Salmonella in poultry is a complex problem with no single solution. However, we have identified a series of strategic actions FSIS could take that are likely to drive down Salmonella infections linked to poultry products consumption, and we are presenting those in this proposed framework,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin.

The proposed framework consists of three key components that, together, support a comprehensive approach to controlling Salmonella in poultry.

They include requiring that incoming flocks be tested for Salmonella before entering an establishment, enhancing establishment process control monitoring and FSIS verification, and implementing an enforceable final product standard.

“This is a historic first step toward final product standards that are science-based, risk-based, enforceable, and effective at protecting our vulnerable loved ones.

“As a parent of a child who suffered from Salmonella illness and is left with permanent injury, I have advocated and engaged in the process to modernize poultry standards to ensure no child has to experience the devastation of a preventable, virulent Salmonella illness. I’m thankful that USDA is making the prevention of illnesses like my son Noah’s a priority,” said Amanda Craten, Board Member of STOP Foodborne Illness.

The framework under consideration also addresses cross-cutting issues of testing for Salmonella, the impact on small and very small establishments and data sharing.

Dr. Craig Hedberg, a Professor at University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Co-Director of the Minnesota Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence, agrees that this framework “is an important step towards moving away from hazard-based regulation toward risk-based regulation.”

“Focusing on levels of Salmonella and highly virulent strains of Salmonella rather than just the presence or absence of Salmonella should reduce the number of illnesses associated with poultry,” he said.

Dr. Angie Siemens, Vice President for Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory at Cargill echoed Cargill’s support of the need to develop a public health risk-based approach to assist in meeting the Healthy People 2030 Salmonella targets, in alignment with their strong commitment to food safety.

“We look forward to reviewing the FSIS Salmonella framework and engaging in a robust dialogue on this issue,” she said.

FSIS seeks public comments

FSIS is soliciting input on all aspects of the draft framework, related to the three components as well as the cross-cutting issues. Concurrently, it is gathering scientific evidence relevant to the approaches presented in the proposed framework.

As stated in the framework, the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) has been charged with providing guidance on what types of microbiological criteria FSIS might use to better prevent Salmonella infections associated with poultry products.

FSIS is also completing a risk profile for pathogenic Salmonella subtypes in poultry and is collaborating on quantitative risk assessments for Salmonella in chicken and turkey that will address key risk management questions associated with this framework.

Further, it has expanded its exploratory sampling program for young chicken carcasses to generate microbial data to help inform future policies.

The department is also transitioning from using presence-based tests to tests that quantify the amount of all Salmonella cells.

“We know that Salmonella in poultry is a complex problem with no single solution. However, we have identified a series of strategic actions FSIS could take that are likely to drive down Salmonella infections linked to poultry products consumption, and we are presenting those in this proposed framework.”

Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy Under Secretary Tweet

The agency is hosting a virtual public meeting on Nov. 3, 2022, to seek input from stakeholders on the proposed framework. Representatives from industry, consumer groups and other stakeholders are invited to participate in the public meeting.

Foodborne disease burden

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Salmonella bacteria cause approximately 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the United States every year.

Of those infections, over 23% are attributed to poultry consumption. Foodborne illness can have a devastating impact, both personally and financially, on people’s lives, the cost of which reverberates through the economy.

Data from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) show the total cost for foodborne Salmonella infections in the United States is a staggering $4.1 billion annually and the cost for the loss of productivity to the economy is $88 million.

These are real costs to real people that can and should be prevented, says USDA.

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