September 24, 2018

USDA Denies Petition to Declare Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella an Adulterant

The USDA on Thursday denied a petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to declare antibiotic-resistant Salmonella an adulterant in food. The non profit petitioned the government three years ago to add the dangerous bacteria to the list. If a bacteria is declared an adulterant, it cannot be present in food sold to the public.

usdaartCSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWall said in a statement, “USDA’s failure to act on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in the meat supply ignores vital information about the public health risk posed by these pathogens. Despite numerous examples of outbreaks linked to resistant pathogens, USDA leaves consumers vulnerable to illnesses that carry a much greater risk of hard-to-treat infections leading to hospitalization.”

The Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak is a case in point. At least 634 people have been sickened in that 17-month outbreak. The hospitalization rate is almost 40%, double the average rate for a typical Salmonella outbreak, and 15% of patients developed blood infections, called sepsis, which is three times the average rate in this type of outbreak. Four of the seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg on that chicken are resistant to multiple antibiotics, which can help explain the hospitalization rate and the high number of serious infections.

The petition would have forced the government to start “adequate” sampling and testing for those pathogens, and to remove contaminated ground meat and poultry from the food supply. Antibiotic resistant bacteria has been found in much of the nation’s chicken that is sold in grocery stores. According to the letter sent to CSPI, USDA believes “additional data on the characteristics of ABR Salmonella are needed to determine whether certain strains of ABR Salmonella could qualify as adulterants.”

Many agencies, including WHO and the CDC, are alarmed by the increase in antibiotic resistance over the past few years, saying that this issue is reaching epidemic proportions. The World Health Organization has declared that the issue of antibiotic resistance is a crisis. DeWaal added, “this widespread overuse of essential medicines allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to invade our food supply and the water and environment near where the animals and poultry are raised.”

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