November 26, 2022

Polls: Consumers Back Stronger Salmonella Standards, Industry is Split

A nationwide poll shows overwhelming support for stricter poultry regulations aimed at reducing the number of illnesses from Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens. The poll of 1,000 registered voters, conducted by the nonprofit STOP Foodborne Illness, found 86 percent of voters want the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adopt such changes.

In the U.S., Salmonella causes more foodborne illness than any other bacteria, about 1.35 million cases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Contaminated poultry accounts for about 23 percent of those illnesses.

For more than two decades, the USDA has been trying to reduce Salmonella illnesses by testing for the presence of the bacteria on poultry at processing plants. But over that time period, Salmonella illnesses linked to poultry didn’t decrease, they actually went up. The agency also lacks enforcement power to hold companies in violation of standards to account. So, a few months ago, the USDA proposed a new plan to try and tackle the poultry industry’s Salmonella problem. 

Consumer support for these reforms is high among all types of voters in this poll with 89 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Republicans, and 84 percent of Independents saying they support stricter regulations.

Consumers of all political stripes also think strengthening enforcement is a good idea. Eighty-six percent said they favored the following proposal: “If a company fails to meet a safety standard because its poultry product is contaminated by dangerous bacteria, it would be prohibited from selling the contaminated products, and if it fails to meet safety standards repeatedly, the company would not be able to sell any poultry products until it demonstrates that it took steps to prevent contamination in the future.”

Salmonella poll

But there is one group that is less enthusiastic about these proposed changes. Poultry producers.

One of the key aspects of the USDA’s plan is to shift away from testing for the presence of Salmonella and focus on testing for the Salmonella serotypes that cause the most harm.

According to a recent poll by WattPoultry, producers are split on that idea. Fifty-five percent said “No” when asked, “Do you think the USDA should move away from the current Salmonella performance measurement of incidence rate of carcasses that are positive for any Salmonella to identifying the incidence of carcasses that are positive for a known-pathogenic strain of Salmonella?”

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Food Safety Attorney and Food Poisoning Bulletin Publisher Eric Hageman

Research shows the percentage of samples positive for the most dangerous strains of Salmonella has increased over the years. And some of them have developed resistance to antibiotics.

“Action can’t wait,” said STOP board member Amanda Craten whose 18-month-old son Noah was one of the youngest victims of the multi-state Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak in 2013. Noah’s infection caused large abscesses in his brain. To save his life, doctors performed a craniotomy to remove them. Noah’s story was featured in a 2015 Frontline report, The Trouble with Chicken, which outlined the USDA’s lack of enforcement ability.

“These reforms are much-needed and long overdue,” said Eric Hageman, whose law firm Pritzker Hageman represented Noah’s family in a landmark Salmonella case against the company that produced the chicken.  “Changing this regulatory framework will prevent illness and save lives.”

 

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