Monday, October 2, 2023

USDA declares salmonella an adulterant

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — On July 29, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that they are making salmonella an adulterant.

“Today’s announcement is an important moment in U.S. food safety because we are declaring salmonella an adulterant in a raw poultry product,” Sandra Eskin, USDA’s deputy under secretary for food safety, said. “This is just the beginning of our efforts to improve public health.”

David Pitt reported in the Associated Press that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed an estimated one in 25 packages of chicken that are purchased in stores comprises of the salmonella bacteria. Eskin added that, “the USDA currently has performance standards that poultry processing plants have to meet to reduce contamination, but the agency cannot stop products from being sold. There is also no adequate testing system to determine levels of salmonella.”

The FSIS will now be able to guarantee that tainted poultry is not sold due to salmonella being determined as an adulterant. Among the poultry products that can contain salmonella include such items as Chicken Cordon Bleu and Chicken Kiev. The products look as they are cooked all the way through; however, they have only been heat treated to set the batter or breading. The foods still have raw meat within them.

“This action and our overall salmonella initiative underscore our view that our job is to ensure that consumers don’t get sick from meat and poultry products. They shouldn’t be sold if they’re contaminated to the degree the people get sick,” Eskin said, adding that, the organization met with food experts and poultry producers for better processing methods. The policy will be in the Federal register and printed in the fall. The USDA will introduce the procedure to the public in October and will have public meetings in November. The new program will begin regular testing for salmonella in frozen chicken products.

Starting in October 2021, the USDA began efforts to assess salmonella as an adulterant in particular chicken items. The agency met with stakeholders to hear their ideas, asking for recommendations from food safety and seeking ideas for experimental projects to try out various control approaches in poultry businesses. Eskin noted in Pitt’s article, “the proposed new rules require routine testing at chicken processing plants. Products would be considered adulterated when the exceed a very low level of salmonella contamination and would be subject to regulatory action, including shuttering plants that fail to reduce salmonella bacteria levels in their products.” However, two poultry companies did not give a comment to the USDA’s announcement. Pitt reported in the Associated Press that a representative from Tyson Foods declined to give comment, although spokesperson for Maryland-based Perdue Farms did not give comment on the announcement, she told Pitt that the company was involved with the Coalition for Poultry Safety Reform. This group was established last year worked with the USDA to reduce the number food infections that came from salmonella.

The National Chicken Council were not in agreement with the USDA’s announcement. Pitt quoted the organization’s spokesperson Ashley Peterson saying, “It has the potential to shutter processing plants, cost jobs and take safe food and convenient products of the shelves. We’re equally concerned that this announcement was not science-based, or date driven.” The organization has insisted that it has taken the necessary steps and precautions to handle foodborne illnesses.

The NCC said in a statement, “as these products often appear ready to eat, but contain raw chicken, we recognize their nature raises special considerations that merit additional attention.” They went on to say, “the National Chicken Council and our member companies have invested millions of dollars and have worked for more than a decade to develop and refine best practices for these products to reduce salmonella and protect public health. These efforts have been paying off, demonstrated by a significant decline in illness over the past seven years.”

The NCC cites legislation that explains the FSIS already has rules in place the ensures the safety of consuming the chicken meat. They said, “Going back to the passage of the Poultry Products Inspection Act in 1957, the mere presence of Salmonella has not rendered raw poultry adulterated. They continued in in their statement, we believe FSIS has the regulatory and public health tools to work with the industry to ensure the continued safety of these products. We’ve been asking the agency for years to collaborate on these efforts, including two petitions for stricter regulations, requests that have gone largely ignored.”

They claim that there is no one-size-approach to fixing the problem of salmonella.

“There is no silver bullet or one-size-fits all approach to food safety, which is why we employ a multi-stage strategy,” NCC noted. “The only way to ensure our food is safe 100 percent of the time is by following science-based procedures when raising and processing chicken, and by handling and cooking it properly at home.”

Salmonella can be reduced if people follow instructions and cook the meat thoroughly.

“FSIS and long interpreted the Poultry Products Inspection Act such that salmonella is not an adulterant in raw poultry, a view reinforced by federal courts as well,” NCC added. “Chicken processors take a number of steps to reduce and control salmonella during processing, and final customary consumer cooking to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F destroys any salmonella may remain.”

The council also noted that, “FSIS has never, since the Poultry Products Inspection Act was passed in 1957, taken the view that mere presence of salmonella on raw poultry renders the product adulterated.”

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