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Consumer Reports supports USDA’s proposed framework for reducing salmonella in poultry by testing incoming flocks before slaughter

CR encourages USDA to focus on salmonella strains most likely to make people sick

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports announced its support today for the USDA’s proposed regulatory framework for reducing salmonella illnesses from poultry. In a letter sent to the USDA, CR endorsed the proposal to test incoming flocks for salmonella contamination before they are sent to processing plants and called on the agency to focus prevention efforts on the strains that are most likely to make people sick.

“Salmonella has long been a vexing food safety problem and contaminated poultry is a leading culprit,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports.  “The USDA’s proposal to test incoming flocks for salmonella prior to slaughter and undergo additional testing while being processed offers a promising roadmap for reducing contamination.  The USDA should prioritize lowering the prevalence of the most dangerous strains of salmonella to reduce the number of people who end up getting sick.”

An estimated 1.35 million Americans are sickened by salmonella every year and nearly a quarter of those cases come from chicken or turkey.  Salmonella contamination 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. Of those, 91 percent were contaminated with one of the three strains that pose the biggest threat to human health: Infantis, Typhimurium, and Enteritidis.

While the USDA currently 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.

Under the USDA’s proposal, poultry producers would be required to test incoming flocks for salmonella before slaughter and provide documentation of salmonella levels or serotypes to processing plants. The requirement is meant to incentivize plants to implement measures to reduce the salmonella load in the final poultry product. USDA is also considering the adoption of a final product standard to ensure that poultry contaminated with salmonella likely to make people sick is not allowed on the market.