After federal food safety officials rejected an earlier petition, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, is renewing and expanding its fight to ban drug-resistant salmonella bacteria from U.S. meat and poultry. This is the focus of our latest report, “Toxic Chicken: Petition Demands USDA Crack Down on Salmonella” by JoNel Aleccia for NBCnews.com.
Aleccia reports that CSPI refiled a petition Wednesday demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture classify four strains of antibiotic-resistant salmonella as “adulterants,” which would prevent the bacteria from entering the food supply.
“The petition asks the agency to sample and test for the pathogens and to recall potentially contaminated food products without waiting for reports of human illness, which is the practice now,” she reports.
Among the strains are the drug-resistant salmonella Heidelberg, the pathogen linked to a 2013 outbreak of food poisoning tied to California poultry producer Foster Farms. The Foster Farms outbreak sickened more than 630 people and brought new attention to the adulteration issue, as it took 16 months for the company and the USDA to issue a recall for the contaminated meat.
“CSPI and other food safety advocates say declaring salmonella an adulterant would be the same kind of positive public health move that declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant in ground beef. That USDA ban took effect in 1994, following contamination of Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers that sickened 732 people and killed four children,” reveals Aleccia. “Since then, E. coli O157 infections in the U.S. have plunged by 58 percent and USDA has named six more similar strains of the pathogen as adulterants in certain beef products.”
Salmonella causes 1.2 million infections, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the U.S. each year, with more deaths attributed to poultry–19 percent–than any other food commodity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After spending $75 million to eliminate salmonella in its farms and plants, Foster Farms reports seeing the proportion of chicken parts that test positive for salmonella plunge from 20 or 25 percent to 5 percent. Industry experts say it’s impossible to completely eradicate salmonella from meat and poultry products and that any law requiring it will decimate the industry.