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USDA proposes a new strategy for keeping salmonella out of chicken

It intends to adopt a new regulatory framework that could keep contaminated product out of the supply chain.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Federal regulators are revamping their processes for safeguarding poultry products from salmonella contamination, one of the more common sources of foodborne illness within restaurants.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it will draft new procedures that extend all the way back to the farm. It indicated in announcing plans to draft a new poultry-safety strategy that the agency has already spent months gathering information from scientists and other experts.

It intends to solicit input from additional stakeholders at what it calls “a virtual public meeting” on Nov. 3. Participants will be invited to provide feedback on what the USDA terms a new strategic framework for combatting salmonella infections. 

That rough outline calls for a significant boost in the USDA’s ability to keep contaminated poultry products out of the supply chain.

The agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, has proposed that certain types or concentrations of salmonella be regarded as adulterants rather than merely potentially dangerous bacteria. Because the agency is technically charged with regulating adulterants, it would have the latitude of keeping the suspect products from being sold. It cannot keep a company from shipping product otherwise. Nor can it order a recall.

After the Nov. 3 meeting, the USDA will adjust its strategic framework and distill those broad policies into specific rules and procedures.

Among the specific measures the FSIS said it would pursue is testing birds for salmonella when they’re moved from one facility to another. That requirement would tend to isolate contaminated chickens and other fowl, instead of spreading salmonella to uninfected birds.

According to another federal food-safety watchdog, the Centers for Disease and Prevention, about 1.4 Americans are sickened by salmonella every year, and 23% of those infections are caused by contaminated poultry. About 26,500 Americans are hospitalized because of the infections.

The USDA’s announcement Thursday of its new strategic framework drew praise from at least one consumer advocacy group.

“This is a historic first step toward final product standards that are science-based, risk-based, enforceable, and effective at protecting our vulnerable loved ones,” Amanda Craten, a director of an alliance called  Stop Foodborne Illness, said in a statement released by the USDA. “As a parent of a child who suffered from salmonella illness and is left with permanent injury, I have advocated and engaged in the process to modernize poultry standards to ensure no child has to experience the devastation of a preventable, virulent salmonella illness.”

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