October 18, 2018

GAO Report: USDA Efforts to Protect Consumers from Salmonella, Campylobacter in Poultry Lacking

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service isn’t doing enough to protect Americans from poultry contaminated with the pathogens Salmonella and Campylobacter, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  More than 2 million Americans are sickened by Salmonella and Campylobacter every year and poultry contaminated with those pathogens causes more deaths than any other commodity.

Raw Chicken on PaperThe report,  requested by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in March, outlines four flaws in the USDA’s efforts to reduce pathogen contamination of poultry and makes four recommendations to address them. For example,  the USDA  guidelines to control Salmonella and Campylobacter on poultry farms, developed in 2010, do not include information on the efficacy of the recommended practices. Without the efficacy rates, poultry farms aren’t being fully informed about the benefits of changing their practices, the report states. Without that information, many farms would be unlikely to make changes. Including this information is one of the GAO’s recommendations.

The other three recommendations are about creating performance measures. The GAO points out that while the USDA has developed a method to measure whether its actions to bring poultry producers into compliance with its standards for Salmonella on whole chicken carcasses is helping the agency to meet its goals, the USDA does not have measures for standards of Salmonella on ground poultry and young turkey carcasses or for Campylobacter on whole poultry carcasses.

“Without performance measures for these standards, USDA is not publicly reporting performance information and cannot assess the effects of its actions related to these standards in meeting the goal of maximizing domestic compliance with food safety policies and, ultimately, protecting public health, ‘ the report states.

“The GAO report confirms that USDA’s pathogen standards for poultry products do not adequately protect public health,” said Senator Feinstein. “Strong new standards are desperately needed to reduce contamination and safeguard consumers from Salmonella and Campylobacter. I urge USDA to finalize strong standards, which it has committed to doing before the end of the year, so they can be implemented and improve food safety.”

To compile the report, the GAO reviewed regulations and conducted interviews with officials from the USDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 11 stakeholder groups.



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