USDA is moving closer to formally declaring salmonella as a contaminant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products.
The department is publishing a proposal in the Federal Register that would consider any breaded stuffed raw chicken product contaminated if it tested positive for a single colony forming unit of the bacteria — far less than the median amount of bacteria that often leads to illness, according to the recommendation.
The proposal details not only the problems salmonella-contaminated poultry has caused U.S. consumers, but it also outlines a testing and inspection plan for makers of breaded stuffed raw chicken products. The public can comment on the proposal for 60 days, but USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service noted it most wants comments on different ways to test products and determine whether they are contaminated.
“USDA is taking science-based, decisive action to drive down Salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a written statement. “Today’s proposal represents the first step in a broader effort to control Salmonella contamination in all poultry products, as well as a continued commitment to protecting American consumers from foodborne illness.”
Federal courts have ruled that salmonella is not automatically something that can be considered a contaminant because the bacteria is killed when meat is cooked, and its mere presence does not indicate that the facility where the meat was processed was contaminated. Until the recent past, consumers led the fight to change the designation for salmonella through petitions and reports.
Late last summer, USDA began testing breaded stuffed raw chicken products for salmonella, and not allowing them to be sold if they are contaminated by the bacteria.
In October, USDA released a proposed regulatory framework to reduce salmonella through testing flocks, ensuring slaughtering facilities are controlling bacteria, and implementing standards to reject contaminated products.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, there are 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States attributable to salmonella. The CDC estimates nearly a quarter of these infections are caused by chicken and turkey consumption. Salmonella infections from breaded and raw chicken products have caused up to 14 outbreaks and 200 illnesses since 1998, USDA said in its press release.
USDA has been putting a new focus on salmonella as part of a 2021 initiative to reduce the number of salmonella-related illnesses by 25%. Previous interpretations of the law required the USDA to name specific bacteria as contaminants — “adulterants” in regulatory parlance — in order to require testing for them and for products containing the bacteria to be rejected.