Statement of Sarah Sorscher, Deputy Director for Regulatory Affairs

In a move long awaited by consumer advocates, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that the agency will be taking bold new steps to prevent chicken and turkey contaminated with dangerous bacteria from reaching store shelves.

USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Sandra Eskin described the announcement during remarks at the annual meeting of the International Association for Food Protection, where she outlined plans to declare Salmonella an adulterant in frozen breaded chicken products as part of a broader strategy to create enforceable standards for all poultry products.

According to USDA, these raw breaded products have been associated with 14 outbreaks since 1998 and can misleadingly appear to be cooked because they are briefly heat-treated to set the batter or breading.

Current USDA standards for poultry cover a limited number of products and are not enforceable, meaning raw chicken and turkey can be sold even if contaminated with dangerous levels of harmful bacteria.

CSPI and other consumer groups petitioned USDA in January 2021 to create enforceable standards for poultry products. Last year we joined numerous partners in launching the Coalition for Poultry Safety Reform, which unifies consumer groups, leaders in the poultry industry, scientific experts, and current and former food safety officials behind a call for new standards.

Salmonella is a leading cause of hospitalizations due to food poisoning. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans experience approximately 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year due to Salmonella, and nearly one in six of these infections (212,500 annually) exhibits antimicrobial resistance at some level.

Voters overwhelmingly favor stronger food safety standards for poultry. National polling conducted last year by STOP Foodborne Illness (another member of the Coalition for Poultry Safety Reform) shows that 86 percent of voters favor a proposal for the USDA to adopt stricter regulations on poultry production aimed at reducing Salmonella poisoning and other illnesses.

Consumers trust that USDA inspection means a product is safe. For too long, the USDA hasn’t lived up to that promise when it comes to Salmonella in poultry. The agency’s failure to develop enforceable standards before now means that dangerously contaminated chicken is routinely stamped “USDA inspected” and placed on store shelves. With today’s announcement, we finally have reason to hope that change is on its way.