October 16, 2021

USDA Tells Staff Not to Interfere with Poultry Industry Voluntary Pathogen Reduction Effort

Food & Water Watch has obtained an internal email by the USDA regarding a new data collection effort by the National Chicken Council. According to the email, The National Chicken Council is spearheading an effort to “collect samples from chicken parts from most all poultry establishments in order to collectively work on voluntary pathogen reduction performance goals that the industry will self-impose using their own industry-wide aggregate data.”

Chicken CarcassesThe email, dated January 17, 2014 and sent to USDA-FSIS district managers, states that the USDA approves of the National Chicken Council effort and does not want in-plant USDA-FSIS inspectors and field supervisors to question this effort or to take steps to force poultry processing plants to turn over the results of the sampling.  The email cautions that “any effort by local inspectors/supervisors to begin undermining this [National Chicken Council] effort will have a negative impact on public health.”

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement that this email is evidence that UDSA-FSIS wants to privatize the inspection process: “This is an extension of the poultry slaughter inspection rule (HIMP) that the agency proposed in January 2012 that would allow the industry to self-regulate and minimize the role of its inspection staff to protect consumers. We call on both the Secretary of Agriculture and the relevant Congressional Committees to take a good hard look at what is going on within this agency before the public is endangered by the reckless deregulatory policies being developed.”

Recently, Consumer Reports conducted a study that showed chicken parts sold in supermarkets in the U.S. have high levels of pathogenic bacteria. The latest foodborne illness outbreak connected to chicken is the Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 400 people in 23 states. There were seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg in that one single outbreak. Many of the bacteria were antibiotic-resistant to two or more drugs, which is why 40% of patients had to be hospitalized. One of the plants involved in that outbreak was recently shut down by the USDA for cockroach contamination. Foster Farms and the USDA never issued a recall of those contaminated chickens.


  1. Ten years ago, after the largest meat recall in US history, the OIG issued recommendations to Congress that FSIS be empowered to review any plant testing records which could rindicate developing sanitation problems or have an impact on plant HACCP/SSOP programs. These recommendations were used to develop agency policy, FSIS Directive 5000.2, which mandates that FSIS personnel review any test results which could reflect on food safety, regardless of whether or nit those tests were referenced in the plant HACCP programs (this was spelled out in detail in Attachment 1 of this directive). The purpose of this review was explicitly toprevent food illness outbreaks. How ironic it is now, 10 years later, that the FSIS is instructing their inspectors to not review plant sanitation data, and that doing so could be injurious to public health! I guess we actually had it rightin the first place!!

  2. Aaron Lavallee says

    Linda, this is a poor interpretation of the facts and we wish you had reached out for clarification so that we could address the confusion. The subject of the email is data gathering and interference is in reference to the data gathering (as a Food Scientist you must know the importance of gathering solid data without interference). We are here to help you fact check your sources anytime. Statement issued earlier today:

    You have seen Food and Water Watch’s press release alleging that the National Chicken Council’s plans to do their own sampling and set independent performance standards, and FSIS’ support of this action, somehow indicate a movement towards privatized inspection that will negatively impact public health. We want to be very clear and assure you that this is not at all true. As you know, reducing consumer exposure to Salmonella, especially in poultry products, is FSIS’ top priority this year. FSIS will continue with our plans to set performance standards for comminuted poultry and poultry parts, and to use our own testing in FSIS-regulated establishments to verify the standards that we have already put in place. These steps taken by the industry are entirely separate from and neither replace nor undermine FSIS’ control measures. Public health stands to benefit from the industry’s indication that they are taking our food safety goals seriously and potentially are adding their own layers of protection.

    Our Salmonella Action Plan includes several items that would strengthen our sampling and enforcement strategies. We are in support of and would not deter an industry initiative geared towards meeting or exceeding the food safety goals laid out in the Salmonella Action Plan.

    • Linda Larsen says

      I’m so glad you commented! I have some questions for you.

      1. Why didn’t you ever issue a recall on the contaminated Foster Farms chicken? There were more than 400 confirmed cases of Salmonella Heidelberg linked to the Foster Farms products. According to the law, when there is enough pathogenic bacteria in a product to make someone sick, that product is considered adulterated.
      2. Why did it take four instances of finding cockroaches in the Foster Farms plant before you finally shut it down?
      3. How on earth did Foster Farms get out of the threatened shutdown in only three days last fall? What did they do or say to change your minds so quickly?
      4. Are you ever going to take more action on Salmonella in chicken? It is the most common form of food poisoning in America. And most chicken sold in this country is contaminated with Salmonella, in addition to Campylobacter.

      I would appreciate a response.

    • Emily Jensen says

      Yeah, right. I believe Food & Water Watch, an agency that exists solely to protect consumers, far more than I trust the USDA, especially after that Foster Farms debacle.

    • Linda Larsen says

      So, no answers to my questions, hm? Sadly, I’m not surprised.

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