WASHINGTON – The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture announced on Oct. 19 that it is starting a new effort to reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry products. 

The agency is gathering information to support its future action as it tries to move toward a national goal of 25% reduction of Salmonella illnesses.

“Far too many consumers become ill every year from poultry contaminated by Salmonella,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We need to be constantly evolving in our efforts to prevent foodborne illness to stay one step ahead of the bad bugs. Today we’re taking action to help prevent Salmonella contamination throughout the poultry supply chain and production system to protect public health.” 

USDA numbers show that more than 1 million consumer illnesses occur every year due to Salmonella, with 23% of those incidents due to chicken and turkey consumption.

“Reducing Salmonella infections attributable to poultry is one of the Department’s top priorities,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin, who is leading the initiative. “Time has shown that our current policies are not moving us closer to our public health goal. It’s time to rethink our approach.”

The agency plans to get stakeholder feedback on specific Salmonella control and measurement strategies, including pilot projects, in poultry slaughter and processing establishments. 

The National Chicken Council (NCC) released a detailed statement on the issue of Salmonella and how it plans to work with industry players in the future. 

“We pledge to continue to do our part - the industry will remain committed to investing significant resources - at the hatchery, feed mill, farm and plant - to further enhance the safety profile of chicken products,” said  Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the NCC. “But there is no law, regulation or silver bullet that will make raw chicken a 100% sterile product. NCC looks forward to a seat at the table as this framework is developed and we will work to ensure that any decisions are based on sound science, robust data and research, and be proven to have meaningful impacts on human health.”

The National Turkey Federation (NTF) also added its comments following the USDA announcement.

“All segments of the turkey industry are united in the effort to address food safety challenges. NTF and its members have long shared ideas and research on the most effective ways to control naturally occurring Salmonella in poultry products,” said Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation. “Because there are no simple solutions, improving food safety requires the type of collaborative approach USDA is advocating. NTF supports — and looks forward to participating in — the process outlined by Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Under Secretary Eskin.”

The North American Meat Institute shared its support to work with the USDA on the latest initiative.

“As an industry, our goal is to produce safe products without exception,” said Julie Anna Potts, President and chief executive officer of the Meat Institute. “The industry has significantly improved efforts to reduce incidence of Salmonella, and we will continue to work with USDA to do all we can to detect and deter incidents of Salmonellosis, especially by coordinating with partners in the supply chain on best practices and research.”

A significant element of this strategy is encouraging preharvest controls to reduce Salmonella contamination coming into the slaughterhouse. The data generated by these projects will be used to see if the illness can be reduced in consumers.

FSIS said it would partner with the Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area to address data gaps and develop new laboratory methods to guide future Salmonella policy. 

At the same time, the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria in Foods will be asked to advise FSIS on the latest Salmonella science and technology.

“Since it is not just the presence or absence of Salmonella, but the quantity of bacteria that can impact the likelihood of illness, FSIS will examine how quantification can be incorporated into this approach,” the agency stated. “Moreover, with emerging science suggesting that not all Salmonella are equally likely to cause human illness, FSIS will focus on the Salmonella serotypes and the virulence factors that pose the greatest public health risk.”

Keep up with the latest in food safety.