WASHINGTON — The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has announced what it’s calling a more “comprehensive” and “stronger” effort to reduce the incidences of Salmonella illnesses stemming from poultry products.
“The agency is initiating several key activities to gather the data and information necessary to support future action and move closer to the national target of a 25 percent reduction in Salmonella illnesses,” the department said.
USDA also notes that it is seeking feedback on control measures and measurement strategies, which will include pilot projects in facilities where poultry slaughter and processing occurs. These projects are looking to be designed to enhance preharvest control to reduce incidence before it reaches the processing stage.
“The data generated from these pilots will be used to determine if a different approach could result in a reduction of Salmonella illness in consumers,” USDA said.
There have been consistent reductions in Salmonella in poultry products, the department said, adding, however, that more than 1 million consumers become ill every year and that it is estimating that 23 percent of the illnesses are from chicken and turkey product consumption.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement that, “Far too many consumers become ill every year from poultry contaminated by Salmonella. We need to be constantly evolving in our efforts to prevent foodborne illness to stay one step ahead of the bad bugs … we’re taking action to help prevent Salmonella contamination throughout the poultry supply chain and production system to protect health.”
This new initiative is being led by USDA Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin, who said, “Reducing Salmonella infections attributable to poultry is one of the department’s top priorities. Time has shown that our current policies are not moving us closer to our public health goal. It’s time to rethink our approach.”
FSIS has noted that it is seeking input from the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria in Foods to provide advisement on using the most up-to-date science in its control approach. The agency also adds that not all Salmonella strains are equally likely to cause illness to humans, and that it, “… will focus on the Salmonella serotypes and the virulence factors that pose the greatest public health risk.”
In regard to this new initiative, and its industry sector, The National Turkey Federation said, “All segments of the turkey industry are united in the effort to address food safety challenges.
“NTF and its members have long shared ideas and research on the most effective ways to control naturally occurring Salmonella in poultry products. Because there are no simple solutions, improving food safety requires the type of collaborative approach USDA is advocating. NTF supports — and looks forward to participating in — the process outlined by Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Under Secretary Eskin.”
NTF further provides tips on safe handling at https://www.eatturkey.org/turkey-food-safety/.
The North American Meat Institute also said that it welcomes this new effort to reduce Salmonella.
“As an industry, our goal is to produce safe products without exception,” Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the Meat Institute, said. “The industry has significantly improved efforts to reduce incidence of Salmonella, and we will continue to work with USDA to do all we can to detect and deter incidents of Salmonellosis, especially by coordinating with partners in the supply chain on best practices and research.”
The National Chicken Council responded with its backing of this new effort.
“We support modernization, ongoing research, innovation and technology development to better address the food safety challenges of today and tomorrow,” Dr. Ashley Peterson, NCC’s senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said. “The broiler industry actively supported modernizing the poultry inspection system for more than two decades by volunteering in pilot projects.
“Poultry companies have invested tens of millions of dollars annually in technology and other scientifically-validated measures to enhance the safety profile of chicken products. Continuous inspection and testing by FSIS has demonstrated the long-term success of these interventions in providing a safe, wholesome and affordable protein for consumers.”
Addressing food safety in her statement, Peterson continued that, “While Salmonella prevalence continues to decline, we recognize illness attributed to Salmonella have not. Even with very low levels of pathogens, there is still the possibility of illness if a raw product is improperly handled or cooked. Increased consumer education about proper handling and cooking of raw meat must be part of any framework moving forward. Proper handling and cooking of poultry is the one thing that will eliminate any risk of foodborne illness. All bacteria potentially found on raw chicken, regardless of strain, are fully destroyed by handling the product properly and cooking it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.”
She added that, “We pledge to continue to do our part — the industry will remain committed to investing significant resources — at the hatchery, feed mill, farm and plant — to further enhance the safety profile of chicken products.”