Mar 6, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a new initiative to reduce Salmonella contamination in raw meat and poultry, mainly by focusing more effort on processing facilities that need improvement and reporting test results faster.
A steady increase in Salmonella in broiler chickens tested by the USDA since 2002 is among the reasons for the initiative, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said in announcing the program on Feb 23. About 16% of broiler samples tested positive in 2005.
"Our goal is to work proactively to reduce the presence of Salmonella on raw products before plants develop a pattern of poor performance," USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond said in a news release. "FSIS will more quickly report testing results and target establishments needing improvement, providing timely information to both consumers and industry."
The FSIS said it will concentrate its resources on facilities with higher levels of Salmonella and will provide sample-by-sample test results to facilities as soon as they become available.
Currently, firms receive results after a full set of samples is completed, which for broilers means after 51 consecutive days of sampling, officials said. Giving the results for each sample when they become available "will help establishments in their assessment of whether their slaughter dressing procedures are adequate for pathogen reduction," the agency said.
The FSIS also will begin posting the overall nationwide results of its Salmonella testing on its Web site each quarter, "to give consumers more complete and timely information about Salmonella trends." Currently results are posted annually. The agency will begin posting the quarterly data soon after the end of the first quarter of this year, according FSIS spokesman Steve Cohen.
In addition, the agency said it plans to identify Salmonella serotypes more quickly so it can notify meat firms and investigate illness outbreaks in coordination with health agencies. Serotypes are used to trace the sources of outbreaks of foodborne disease by matching pathogen strains found in patients with strains found in foods.
The Salmonella initiative is patterned after a recent FSIS program to reduce the level of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef. The FSIS calls that program highly successful and says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it led to a 40% reduction in E coli illness cases.
The agency said experience has shown that processing plants that get special inspections are able to reduce Salmonella in their products. "Where FSIS has performed Food Safety Assessments (FSAs) in establishments that have persistently poor performance records for controlling Salmonella, there has been a dramatic reduction in the levels of Salmonella," the agency reported.
The USDA first set Salmonella standards for raw meat and poultry in 1996 when it launched the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and critical Control Point rule. The FSIS collects and tests samples of seven categories of products: broilers, market hogs, cows and bulls, steer and heifers, ground beef, ground chicken, and ground turkey.
The agency said the overall percentage of contaminated broilers is below the baseline level at the time the HACCP rule was established, but "the recent upward trend is of concern to the agency."
In 2005, 16.3% of the 9,592 broiler samples from processing plants of all sizes tested positive for Salmonella, according to the FSIS's latest report. That compares with 13.5% in 2004, 12.8% in 2003, and 11.5% in 2002.
Also in 2005, the agency found Salmonella in 32.4% of 145 tested samples of ground chicken and 23.2% of 925 samples of ground turkey. In 2004 the respective figures were 25.5% for ground chicken and 19.9% for ground turkey.
Salmonella was found far less often in the other product categories in 2005: 3.7% for market hogs, 1.3% for cows and bulls, 0.6% for steers and heifers, and 1.1% for ground beef.
For all product categories combined in 2005, the FSIS found Salmonella in 5.7% (2,322) of the 40,714 samples tested, according to the report.
The FSIS is accepting comments on its new policy until May30. (See news release link below for information on where to submit comments.)
Feb 23 FSIS news release
FSIS report of Salmonella sampling results for 1998-2005
Aug 10, 2004, CIDRAP News story "USDA finding Salmonella less often in meat"