The USDA must revise poultry pathogen testing methods to improve accuracy and better protect public health, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Rosa Luisa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter said in a letter to USDA Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack. The group penned the letter after learning from a recent report that antibacterial sanitizers used to kill pathogens on poultry carcasses may cause false-negative results for Salmonella.
“We have to be vigilant when it comes to monitoring the safety of our food. This report is a reminder of the importance of good and efficient oversight when it comes to maintaining a safe food supply.” said Sen. Gillibrand, (D- NY). “We should never be placed in the position to question testing results in our poultry. The USDA should provide a thorough risk assessment and respond to the recent scientific findings of false-negative results to ensure we can remain confident in the safety of the food we buy for our families.”
In the study entitled, “Effect of Simulated Sanitizer Carryover on Recovery of Salmonella from Broiler Carcass Rinsates,” published in the May edition of the Journal of Food Protection, researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) dipped broiler carcasses into one of five sanitizer solutions and tested them at 0-, 1-, and 5-minute drip-time intervals. At the 0- and 1-min drip time equivalents, no Salmonella was found in three of the five sanitizers studied.
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of animals and are shed in their feces. Contamination can happen during slaughter and transmit disease when food tainted with microscopic amounts of fecal material is ingested.
The infection called, salmonellosis, causes diarrhea that can be bloody, abdominal cramps, and fever. Usually these symptoms develop within six to 72 hours of exposure and last up to a week. But for some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Seniors, children and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to develop a severe illness. They are also at risk for long-term complications of a Salmonella infection which include reactive arthritis which causes painful swelling of the joints and eye problems.
Hundreds of Americans have been sickened in recent Salmonella outbreaks linked to chicken. Last summer, two outbreaks were linked to frozen chicken entrees such as chicken kiev. One was linked to products made by Aspen Foods which had been linked to prior Salmonella outbreaks. The USDA described the company’s Salmonella problems at its Chicago plant as “systemic.”
The outbreak, which sickened five people, triggered a recall of 1.9 million pounds of products sold nationwide under the brand names Acclaim, Antioch Farms, Buckley Farms, Centrella Signature, Chestnut Farms, Family Favorites, Kirkwood, Koch Foods, Market Day, Oven Cravers, Rose, Rosebud Farm, Roundy’s, Safeway Kitchens, Schwan’s, Shaner’s, Spartan and Sysco.
The other outbreak linked to frozen chicken entrees last summer was linked to Barber Foods. The Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak sickened 15 people in seven states before ending in October. Four people were hospitalized.
In 2013, Foster Farms was linked to a 29-state Salmonella outbreak that sickened 634 people with an especially virulent strain of Salmonella Heidelberg.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses a multiplier specific to each pathogen to estimate the total number of people sickened in food poisoning outbreaks, rather than the number of cases confirmed. Using the multiplier for Salmonella, which is 30.3, about 19, 816 Americans were sickened by chicken produced by these three companies.