888 Seventeenth Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20006
January 14, 1999
Carol Tucker Foreman
Christopher Gould, 202/822-8060
WASHINGTON, DC-The Safe Food Coalition today charged that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposal to continue to allow retained water in poultry may keep Salmonella and Campylobacter levels in poultry unnecessarily high and contribute to continued high rates of food poisoning in the United States.
“This proposal is inconsistent with the Clinton Administration’s commitment to food safety and the USDA’s continued efforts to reduce food poisoning,” charged Carol Tucker Foreman, coordinator of the Safe Food Coalition and a former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture.
“USDA has tried to construct a food safety argument for continuing to allow poultry processors to soak their birds and consumers. For years, USDA has allowed poultry processors to dump chicken carcasses into tubs of water to chill them. In the process, the birds gain up to 8 percent of their body weight in water. Consumers then pay chicken prices for water.
“More importantly, consumers may be paying for chickens that are more contaminated and likely to cause food poisoning. Studies show that chickens leave the water baths more contaminated than when they entered. We’re disappointed that USDA is so blatantly favoring immersion chilling and trying to wrap it in a cloak of food safety. In March 1998, Consumer Reports Magazine found that 71 percent of the chickens they purchased at retail were contaminated with disease causing bacteria. Consumer Reports also noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of cases of food poisoning caused by chicken rose threefold between 1988 and 1992 (the most recent year for which data are available). Despite the high rates of contamination and illness, USDA ignored studies showing a immersion chilling increases carcass contamination. Instead, the Department’s proposal presumes this method, favored by poultry processors, will be the only one used.
“However, in the European Union and Canada, poultry carcasses are cooled with air or a combination of air and water spray. USDA refused to even consider those methods even though they may be both safer and fairer. New research shows they are just as effective as immersion chilling.
“Not surprisingly, red meat processors have now asked USDA to allow them to add water to beef and hog carcasses in order to level the playing field.
Foreman concluded, “We think the USDA should determine which methods of carcass chilling produce the lowest levels of contamination before issuing a final rule and then adopt a rule that encourages the use of that technology. Until the data are collected, USDA should require that poultry chilled through immersion be drained of all added water before packaging and sale. This will stop poultry producers from soaking consumers and red meat producers and create and incentive to find the safest method of chilling poultry.”
Foreman, Heidepriem & Mager
888 – 17th Street, NW #800
Washington, DC 20006