USDA official urges poultry industry to submit data on salmonella
|Poultry industry members who have been critical of an Agriculture Department regulatory framework for a new strategy to control salmonella in raw poultry products and more effectively reduce foodborne salmonella infections linked to these products should submit their data and scientific information to USDA in an open public meeting on November 3 or in writing, the deputy undersecretary for food safety told The Hagstrom Report today.The framework released Friday identifies the key elements that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is considering as part of a new regulatory strategy, but it is not a proposed rule, Sandra Eskin, the deputy undersecretary for food safety, said in a telephone interview.|
|“We thought we should be sharing our thinking as soon as possible,” Eskin said, adding that she hopes a rule can be proposed in mid-2023. The reason for the proposed changes to regulation regarding salmonella is that, while the incidence of salmonella found in poultry products has decreased, the level of infections has not, she said.The National Chicken Council was critical of the framework, and the National Turkey Federation described it as a “starting point.”In the interview, Eskin said she has told industry officials that if they say the framework does not reflect data or science, “show us your data. I will meet with you anytime.” The only way FSIS will finalize the best policy, she said, is with the best science-based, data-driven information.“FSIS is a public health agency” and the framework is part of “the work we should be doing,” Eskin said.Eskin also noted that FSIS’s testing is internal and the proposed framework does not affect USDA food safety inspection at this time.Food safety advocates praised the framework, adding they hope it will move forward and be implemented.In a news release, Eskin said, “We know that salmonella in poultry is a complex problem with no single solution. However, we have identified a series of strategic actions FSIS could take that are likely to drive down salmonella infections linked to poultry products consumption, and we are presenting those in this proposed framework.”The proposed framework consists of three key components:▪ Requiring that incoming flocks be tested for salmonella before entering an establishment;|
▪ Enhancing establishment process control monitoring and FSIS verification; and
▪ Implementing an enforceable final product standard.
|Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said, “The agency is formulating regulatory policies and drawing conclusions before gathering data, much less analyzing it. This isn’t science – it’s speculation. We continue to be disappointed that the agency has failed to use science and research to drive its regulatory policies.”NCC continues to emphasize that the problem may be in the food preparation stage.“While salmonella prevalence continues to decline, there is still the possibility of illness if a raw product is improperly handled or cooked. Increased consumer education about proper handling and cooking of raw meat must be part of any framework moving forward,” Peterson added. “Proper handling and cooking of poultry is the last step – not the first – that will help eliminate any risk of foodborne illness. All bacteria potentially found on raw chicken, regardless of strain, are fully destroyed by handling the product properly and cooking it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.”The National Turkey Federation said, “As FSIS and industry look towards comprehensive strategies to advance this priority, it is imperative that the best science drive food safety policy. The salmonella framework released today is a starting point and should be the topic of robust debate and discussion among stakeholders.”In a statement included in the USDA news release, Angie Siemens, vice president for food safety, quality and regulatory at Cargill, said, “In alignment with our strong commitment to food safety, Cargill supports the need to develop a public health risk-based approach to assist in meeting the Healthy People 2030 salmonella targets. We look forward to reviewing the FSIS salmonella framework and engaging in a robust dialogue on this issue.”Amanda Craten, board member of STOP Foodborne Illness, said in the news release, “This is a historic first step toward final product standards that are science-based, risk-based, enforceable, and effective at protecting our vulnerable loved ones. As a parent of a child who suffered from salmonella illness and is left with permanent injury, I have advocated and engaged in the process to modernize poultry standards to ensure no child has to experience the devastation of a preventable, virulent salmonella illness. I’m thankful that USDA is making the prevention of illnesses like my son Noah’s a priority.”|
|Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, said, “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 reducing the strains that pose the biggest threat to human health.”Consumer Reports said, “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.”|
|Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, noted that the framework proposal would help ensure that product likely to make people sick will not be sold to consumers.“These standards, modeled on measures the agency took to ban dangerous STEC E coli in ground beef in the 1990s, would replace existing non-specific performance standards that set no limits on the amount or type of salmonella that can be present in raw poultry,” Sorscher said. “The current standards allow chicken and turkey carrying high levels of the most dangerous serotypes to be stamped ‘USDA Inspected’ and placed on store shelves, putting consumers at risk of illness.”These weak standards may be one reason salmonella remains the nation’s leading cause of death and hospitalization from food poisoning, she added. “Chicken is the leading source of foodborne salmonellosis, according to the most recent attribution data,” she said.“USDA’s announcement of this framework represents a landmark acknowledgement from an agency that has long refused to recognize that salmonella in raw poultry poses unacceptable risks,” Sorscher continued. She noted that “CSPI first petitioned the USDA to ban certain strains of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in 2011, and again in 2014, but was denied twice by the agency.”More recently, CSPI partnered with other consumer groups and victims of foodborne illness in January 2021 in petitioning the agency to create enforceable, finished product standards for salmonella in raw poultry, she added.“While the proposed framework represents a welcome shift in thinking by the agency, many important details are yet to be worked out, and the need for these changes is urgent,” Sorscher concluded. “Under the agency’s proposal, rules implementing the framework would not be finalized until mid-2024, a long time to wait for the estimated one million Americans sickened each year by salmonella illness.”|