June 25, 2024

Feinstein and Durbin Ask USDA to Address Poultry Contamination

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representative Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack this week, asking him to develop strong performance standards for poultry products to reduce foodborne illnesses. Both Campylobacter and Salmonella should be addressed in the new standards, according to the letter.

Raw Chicken on PaperThe USDA is going to publish a new Salmonella standard for poultry parts by September 2014, and for ground poultry products by the end of the year. But the government does not have a timeline for establishing Campylobacter standards for those products. And the recent CDC Food Safety Progress Report states that there has been a 13% increase in Campylobacter infections in the U.S. from 2008 to 2013.

The letter states that “it is critical that new performance standards are set at a level that will reduce the number of illnesses and deaths attributed to Salmonella and Campylobacter. The CDC estimates that these two pathogens cause nearly two million illnesses, 27,500 hospitalizations, and over 450 deaths each year. What is even more troubling is that the CDC reports that our food safety system has not reduced the number of illnesses caused by Salmonella since 2000.”

The huge Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak is indicative of this problem. That outbreak has sickened at least 524 people in the last year. The number sickened is actually at least 15,877, since Salmonella illnesses are drastically under reported and the multiplier for this type of outbreak is 38. And the hospitalization rate for that outbreak is three times the average rate, since the seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg in that outbreak were resistant to several antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can make infections more difficult to treat so hospitalization is more likely.

The letter addresses this fact, stating that “testing by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System between 2002 and 2011 found that 47 percent of chicken breasts in grocery stores tested positive for Campylobacter. Routine testing by your Department [USDA] in 2013 found that over 40 percent of ground chicken tested positive for Salmonella. A study completed by your Department in 2012 also found that 26 percent of poultry parts tested positive for Salmonella and that 21 percent tested positive for Campylobacter.”


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