Statement of Sarah Sorscher, Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a new regulatory framework aimed at reducing Salmonella illnesses caused by poultry products. The framework reveals the agency is considering the unprecedented step of banning the highest-risk Salmonella contamination from raw poultry, helping ensure that product likely to make people sick is not sold to consumers.
These standards, modeled on measures the agency took to ban dangerous STEC E coli in ground beef in the 1990s, would replace existing non-specific performance standards that set no limits on the amount or type of Salmonella that can be present in raw poultry. The current standards allow chicken and turkey carrying high levels of the most dangerous serotypes to be stamped “USDA Inspected” and placed on store shelves, putting consumers at risk of illness.
These weak standards may be one reason Salmonella remains the nation’s leading cause of death and hospitalization from food poisoning. Chicken is the leading source of foodborne Salmonellosis, according to the most recent attribution data.
USDA’s announcement of this framework represents a landmark acknowledgement from an agency that has long refused to recognize that Salmonella in raw poultry poses unacceptable risks. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) first petitioned the USDA to ban certain strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in 2011, and again in 2014, but was denied twice by the agency.
More recently, CSPI partnered with other consumer groups and victims of foodborne illness in January 2021 in petitioning the agency to create enforceable, finished product standards for Salmonella in raw poultry, a move USDA now appears ready to integrate within the framework announced today.
The framework also proposes testing Salmonella in incoming flocks, another unprecedented step, and one that is aimed at encouraging food safety best practices at the farm, prior to slaughter. Such on-farm food safety practices are critical if USDA is to ensure the safety of meat and poultry products from farm to fork.
While the proposed framework represents a welcome shift in thinking by the agency, many important details are yet to be worked out, and the need for these changes is urgent. Under the agency’s proposal, rules implementing the framework would not be finalized until mid-2024, a long time to wait for the estimated one million Americans sickened each year by Salmonella illness.
CSPI looks forward to working with the agency and stakeholder partners to ensure the swift development of a final framework that is achievable, science-based, and meets the needs of consumers and the public.