Salmonella declining in meat and poultry, USDA says

Nov 25, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the rate of Salmonella contamination in raw meat and poultry samples it has tested so far this year is down 16% from last year and 66% lower than the rate 6 years ago.

The pathogen was found in 3.6% of samples tested from January through October of this year, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced yesterday. That compares with 4.29% in 2002, 5.03% in 2001, 5.21% in 2000, 7.26% in 1999, and 10.65% in 1998.

"These figures demonstrate that strong, science-based enforcement of food safety rules is driving down the rate of Salmonella," Dr. Elsa Murano, under secretary for food safety, said in the USDA announcement.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) tests about 58,000 meat and poultry samples from more than 7,600 processing plants each year, FSIS spokesman Matt Baun told CIDRAP News. He said no breakdown of Salmonella rates for specific meat and poultry products was available. The number of samples and proportions of different products tested stays about the same from year to year, according to Baun.

Baun attributed the decline in Salmonella prevalence primarily to the Hazard Analysis/Critical Control Point (HACCP) program for controlling pathogens, which debuted in 1997 and was implemented over the ensuing 3 years.

Last week the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group that works on nutrition and food safety issues, criticized the USDA for no longer testing whole turkeys for Salmonella. Saying consumers now have no way of knowing whether turkey products come from clean facilities, the group called on Veneman to restore testing of turkeys for Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Baun said the FSIS tested turkeys for Salmonella in the past and found that the contamination rates in turkeys and chickens were about the same. Consequently, "We look at the data for Salmonella in chicken and basically extrapolate them to turkeys," he said. The last year turkeys were tested was 2001, he reported.

But the agency continues to inspect turkey processing plants, Baun added. "We have inspectors in every plant every day, looking at every bird" and monitoring HACCP programs, he said.

The reported decline in Salmonella follows recent USDA reports of lower rates of two other pathogens in meat and poultry samples. In September the agency reported it had found Escherichia coli O157:H7 in 0.32% of ground beef samples this year, compared with 0.78% in 2002. And in October the USDA said that Listeria monocytogenes had been found in 0.75% of ready-to-eat meat and poultry product samples this year, compared with 1.03% of samples last year.

See also:

USDA's Nov 24 news release

CSPI's Nov 19 news release

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