New government test show turkey industry not controlling hazard as well as chicken, ground beef companies

WASHINGTON - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests in turkey slaughter plants showed that 13% of turkeys are contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. In 2001, the USDA collected over 2,200 turkey samples from some 45 plants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates thatSalmonella in food is responsible for 1.3 million illnesses, 15,000 hospitalizations, and over 500 deaths a year.

     Salmonella testing is a critical part of the USDA’s program to reduce hazards in meat and poultry products under 1996 reforms. However, until this year the turkey industry has been largely exempt from the testing program, which began in 1998 for chicken and beef. In 2000, Salmonella was found in 9.1% of chicken samples and 3.3% of ground beef, according to USDA.

     The USDA tests found broad variation among turkey slaughter plants. Among the cleanest third of the plants, the rate ofSalmonella contamination was 5% or less. But in the worst 15% of the plants, at least one in every five birds had Salmonella. In the dirtiest plant checked by USDA, half the turkeys were contaminated with Salmonella.

     “The large number of plants producing relatively clean turkeys shows that farming and slaughter practices can produce turkeys with little or no Salmonella,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But some plants are marketing large numbers of contaminated turkeys. It is especially troubling that USDA won’t tell the public the contamination rates at the various plants.”

     At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DeWaal announced that CSPI has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain plant-by-plant data from USDA. Two months ago CSPI petitioned USDA to disclose on the Internet plant-specific Salmonella testing data so that consumers could identify the contamination rates of the plants providing their grocery stores with meat and poultry products.

     At the press conference where the Salmonella data were released, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the numerous federal agencies involved in ensuring food safety ineffective and inefficient at controlling hazards like Salmonella.

     “It is imperative that we ensure that the federal government enforces the highest food- safety standards to protect the health of all American families,” said DeLauro, author of the Safe Food Act (HR 1671). “Currently, 12 different agencies all with varying and conflicting missions, attempt to work together to inspect our nation’s food. A single food agency would optimize federal food safety-resources, centralize the fragmented food-safety system, and minimize the duplicative efforts.”

     To ensure that your holiday dinner is safe, CSPI recommends following:

  • Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, microwave oven, or submerged in a sink (change the water every 1/2 hour) for maximum safety.
  • Use soap and water to wash all counters, hands, and utensils that touched raw turkey.
  • Roast the turkey until the temperature taken at the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 ° F.
  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
  • Enjoy dinner, but don’t forget to refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
  • You should eat leftovers within two to four days, freeze them, or throw them away.