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CR praises USDA proposal to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products

Proposal would enable USDA to take more effective action to protect the public from foodborne illness outbreaks 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A proposal announced today by the USDA to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products at low levels will enable the agency to more effectively protect the public from foodborne illness, according to Consumer Reports. CR praised the proposal as an important first step to address widespread Salmonella contamination and is encouraging the agency to adopt additional measures to protect the public from the dangerous bacteria in other chicken products.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are sickened by poultry contaminated with Salmonella every year,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports.  “Today’s action represents a critical first step toward strengthening USDA’s ability to prevent Salmonella illness and hold manufacturers accountable for removing contaminated products from the market.  We commend Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Undersecretary Eskin for today’s encouraging announcement and hope that it will lead to additional measures by the agency to sharply reduce Salmonella contamination in all poultry products.”

Breaded raw stuffed chicken products include some chicken cordon bleu and chicken Kiev products found in the freezer section of the grocery store.  These products may appear cooked to consumers but they contain raw chicken and are only heat-treated by manufacturers to set the batter or breading.

Under the proposal announced today, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products would be considered adulterated if they were contaminated with Salmonella that exceeded 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram.  The adulterated designation would require companies to recall any product that tests positive above this low level of contamination, instead of waiting for outbreaks when people get sick.

Salmonella is widespread in chicken in part because of the often crowded and filthy conditions in which they are raised. A recent CR investigation, for example, found almost one-third of ground chicken samples tested contained salmonella.  Nearly 1.35 million Americans get sick from salmonella every year, about one-fifth of those cases come from chicken or turkey.

While the USDA requires producers to test poultry for salmonella, a processing facility is allowed to have the bacteria in up to 9.8 percent of all whole birds it tests, 15.4 percent of all parts, and 25 percent of ground chicken. Producers that exceed these amounts are given what amounts to a warning, but not prevented from selling the meat.

Consumer Reports has called on the USDA to set more aggressive goals to sharply reduce the percentage of chicken samples allowed to test positive for salmonella and to focus on reducing the salmonella strains that pose the biggest threat to human health. CR also believes the USDA needs more authority to inspect poultry plants and should close facilities immediately when high salmonella rates are found.

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537