Groups Urge USDA to Take Action on Poultry Pathogens

Consumer Federation of America, along with partner groups Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, and members of Stop Foodborne Illness, submitted a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) calling for the agency to develop enforceable standards to reduce foodborne infections caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry.

The petition, submitted late last month, urged USDA to take two actions to address the issue of foodborne infections caused by tainted poultry.

1. Adopt Enforceable Standards

“The current performance standards used to assess Salmonella and Campylobacter in finished products have had only limited effectiveness in bringing down product contamination rates, while not impacting human illness number,” the groups wrote. “One of the reasons these standards may have failed to achieve the desired public health outcome is that they aim to reduce the prevalence of all Salmonella equally despite well documented variability in health risk among human Salmonella infections as a result of differences in virulence among individual Salmonella serotypes, strains, and genotypes, including presence of genes associated with antibiotic resistance… This non-specific approach means that much of the effort invested into Salmonella control may have the effect of eliminating the most common Salmonella serotypes that are highly prevalent in poultry but not be sufficient for those commonly associated with human illness in the United States… The current system also fails to ensure clear consequences for establishments that fail to meet the existing prevalence-based performance standards… Thus, greater gains are possible with Salmonella if the agency takes ambitious steps to target the most harmful Salmonella types, removing them from inspected products.”

2. Require Supply Chain Controls

“FSIS officials, as well as other United States food safety experts both within and outside of government, have repeatedly recognized the need for ‘comprehensive farm-to-table’ risk management and the potential for pre-harvest interventions to enhance public health,” the groups wrote. “Such an approach recognizes that pathogens are not limited to a single production environment and can move from livestock and poultry to produce and other commodities without regard to regulatory oversight… We therefore urge FSIS to require establishments to adopt supply chain programs, following similar steps already undertaken by the FDA in its regulations establishing preventive controls for processed food. Specifically, these FDA regulations include a requirement that a ‘supply-chain program’ be established for raw materials and other ingredients that a receiving facility identifies as ‘containing a hazard(s) reasonably likely to occur and in need of control.’”

“A supply chain program would help FSIS expand past its current narrow regulatory focus on slaughter and processing, which misses a critical upstream opportunity to minimize bacterial contamination of live birds prior to receipt at slaughter establishments…Evidence from other countries has established the effectiveness of a more holistic, multi-hurdle approach that sets targets for reducing Salmonella contamination at every step in the supply chain, including live production,” the groups added.

“Given the continuing public health burden of Salmonella and Campylobacter, individuals and families in the United States deserve food safety standards that protect them from the risks posed by the foods inspected by this agency. In the interest of protecting public health and meeting the reasonable expectations of America’s consumers, the time has come to set enforceable finished product standards and extend necessary reforms to the U.S. poultry industry based on a risk-based approach,” the groups concluded.

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Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is a non-profit organization advancing the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

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