May 6, 2024


USDA implements new rule targeting salmonella in chicken products


Poultry producers are mandated to reduce salmonella bacteria levels in specific chicken products to mitigate food poisoning risks, as per a final rule issued by US Department of Agriculture (USDA), CBS News reported.


Effective from 2025, salmonella presence above certain thresholds in frozen breaded and stuffed raw chicken products will be deemed an adulterant, akin to contaminants causing foodborne illnesses. This includes items like frozen chicken cordon bleu and chicken Kiev, which may seem fully cooked but are merely heat-treated to set the batter or coating.


Sandra Eskin, the USDA's undersecretary for food safety, noted this marks the first time salmonella has been categorized as an adulterant in raw poultry, mirroring certain E. coli bacteria regulations governing raw ground beef.


Under the new rule, products exceeding the allowed salmonella level cannot be sold and are subject to recall, Eskin added.


Salmonella poisoning contributes to over 1.3 million infections and around 420 deaths annually in the US, with food being the primary source, per the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Despite labelling changes emphasising thorough cooking, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been linked to at least 14 salmonella outbreaks and over 200 illnesses since 1998, according to CDC data. A 2021 outbreak associated with these products caused at least three dozen illnesses across 11 states, leading to hospitalisations.


The new rule addresses a specific poultry product category, laying the groundwork for broader salmonella regulation currently under consideration by federal authorities, said Mike Taylor, a former FDA official overseeing food safety.


Poultry industry representatives argue that existing measures ensure product safety and that companies have invested in reducing salmonella in raw chicken. However, concerns have been raised that the regulation could prompt plant closures, job losses, and limit food choices without significantly enhancing public health.


Similar action was taken with E coli bacteria in 1994 after deadly outbreaks linked to ground beef, resulting in a significant decline in related foodborne illnesses.


Seattle-based food safety lawyer Bill Marler sees the new regulation as a positive initial step, suggesting that setting standards will prompt industry adjustments.

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