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USDA proposes new strategy to reduce salmonella illnesses from poultry

Consumer Reports urges USDA to adopt salmonella prevention measures without delay

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  A new proposal announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce salmonella illnesses from poultry is an encouraging sign that the agency is stepping up its efforts to protect the public, according to Consumer Reports.  CR is calling on the agency to move expeditiously to adopt new measures to prevent salmonella contamination in poultry, which sickens hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.

“Salmonella contamination is all too common in poultry and poses a potentially deadly risk to consumers,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.  “We’re very encouraged that the USDA is releasing a regulatory framework that proposes new measures to prevent salmonella contamination and protect the public from getting sick. It’s critical for the USDA to work expeditiously to adopt aggressive goals to sharply reduce salmonella contamination and focus its efforts on the strains that pose the biggest threat to human health.”

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.  An estimated 1.35 million Americans get sick from salmonella every year and nearly a quarter of those cases come from chicken or turkey.

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 proposal announced by the USDA, poultry producers would be required to test 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.

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