October 16, 2018

CSPI Petitions USDA to Declare Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Adulterants

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is petitioning the USDA to declared four antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella bacteria adulterants under federal law. The petition was filed on October 1, 2014.  The petition is a refiling of one filed in May 2011 which was denied by the USDA.

AntibioticsOne reason the USDA gave for the denial is that “ordinary cooking is sufficient to kill Salmonella”, even though cross-contamination is one way the bacteria contaminates food in the home. This new petition provides the agency with more evidence as support. As evidence, CSPI gave USDA recipes from the New York Times, Food Network, Epicurious, and other sources for pork, lamb, and chicken with cooking times indicative of rare or medium-rare temperatures.

CSPI has documented 19 outbreaks related to all strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in USDA-FSIS regulated products since the 2011 petition was filed: 10 in beef, one in pork, and eight in poultry including three in ground turkey. Those outbreaks caused 2,358 illnesses, 424 hospitalizations, and 8 deaths among consumers.

USDA declared six strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) bacteria adulterants in non-intact beef in 2011. The government announced in January 2012 that testing would begin on those strains. Since then, there have been no outbreaks linked to those specific strains of bacteria in beef.

Since the 2011 CSPI petition was submitted, two huge multi-state outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg linked to Foster Farms chicken products sickened at least 750 people and hospitalized 233. The USDA allowed those contaminated products to remain on the market as the outbreak grew. CSPI states that “USDA, which had initiated recalls in some but not other outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, uses its authority in an arbitrary and inconsistent way – putting consumers at risk.”

CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement, “The Foster Farms outbreaks should have served as a wake-up call to USDA, but the agency keeps hitting the snooze button. USDA should be testing for antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella to keep contaminated foods out of grocery stores – just as it now can do for the most dangerous strains of E. coli. Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is no less dangerous and kills twice as many Americans each year.”

DeWaal continued, “the number of illnesses and hospitalizations alone shows that USDA’s confidence in Americans to control antibiotic-resistant Salmonella with proper cooking is misplaced. The key is to reduce consumer exposure by keeping these strains out of the meat and poultry products altogether.”

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