USDA says Salmonella in meat and poultry declined in 2002

Apr 22, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The prevalence of Salmonella contamination in raw meat and poultry tested by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) declined overall from 2001 to 2002, the USDA has announced.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said that Salmonella was found in 4.3% of the 58,085 meat and poultry samples it tested in 2002, as compared with 5.0% of 45,941 samples tested in 2001. In addition, Salmonella prevalence for all product categories remained well below national baseline levels that were measured before the USDA required meat and poultry plants to set up Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (PR/HACCP) systems in the late 1990s, the agency said.

"These data tell us that we are making steady and sustained progress in reducing the incidence of Salmonella in raw meat and poultry products," USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Elsa Murano said in a news release. "This positive trend in regulatory samples will hopefully translate into fewer cases of Salmonella due to meat and poultry."

However, the agency cautioned that the figures do not necessarily indicate the true nationwide prevalence of Salmonella in meat and poultry, because the testing program was designed to track firms' performance, not estimate nationwide prevalence. Different plants may be monitored from year to year, and the results are not weighted on the basis of firms' production volume.

The FSIS issued its report Apr 16, the day before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported evidence that the incidence of Salmonella infections remained roughly the same from 1996 through 2002. The findings came from active surveillance in nine states, including about 13% of the US population (see CIDRAP news story). The report listed salmonellosis incidence at 16.1 cases per 100,000 population in 2002, compared with 15.1 in 2001.

The FSIS tests for Salmonella in seven product categories—broiler chickens, market hogs, cows and bulls, steers and heifers, ground beef, ground chicken, and ground turkey—and lists results by plant size. For all plant sizes, Salmonella prevalence declined from 2001 to 2002 for all the products except ground chicken, which saw an increase from 19.5% to 29.1% of samples tested, the agency reported. That increase was mainly due to an increase in prevalence for very small establishments, from 16.8% in 2001 to 31.0% in 2002, officials said.

Following are the 2002 Salmonella prevalence figures for the seven product types, including all plant sizes, with the 2001 percentages and pre-PR/HACCP baseline levels in parentheses: broilers, 11.5% (11.9%, 20.0%); market hogs, 3.2% (3.8%, 8.7%); cows and bulls, 1.7% (2.4%, 2.7%); steers and heifers, 0.3% (0.6%, 1.0%); ground beef, 2.6% (2.8%, 7.5%); ground chicken, 29.1% (19.5%, 44.6%); and ground turkey, 17.9% (26.2%, 49.9%).

The FSIS pointed out a big improvement in Salmonella performance for very small broiler plants. From 1998 through 2001, those plants had trouble matching the baseline standard of 20.0% prevalence. But in 2002 the rate dropped to 8.4%, compared with 37.2% the year before.

See also:

FSIS news release on Salmonella, with link to the full report

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