Salmonella contamination rising

US - While industry and government efforts are showing progress in battling contamination by other pathogens, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics indicate there has been a steady increase in Salmonella contamination in poultry over the last five years.

The latest data on poultry contamination compiled by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service shows that about 16 percent of poultry tested positive for Salmonella last year - an 80 percent increase since 2000, when 9 percent of poultry tested positive. The highest rates of contamination were found in ground turkey and broiler chickens.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1.4 million people get sick from Salmonella in the United States each year, with about 400 deaths. But epidemiologists are increasingly concerned about the spread of strains of some drug-resistant Salmonella in animals.

Consumer groups say the increasing cases of Salmonella contamination show the need for Congress to tighten food inspection laws to give the USDA greater authority to shut down plants that aren't taking adequate measures to control the spread of pathogens.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said the authority of government inspectors to deal with Salmonella contamination in meat was undercut by a 2001 court decision in a case involving Supreme Beef Processors, which declared Salmonella was a naturally occurring pathogen in poultry, and not "an adulterant" or material added to raw meat that is subject to USDA regulation. Other food pathogens like Listeria and dangerous strains of E. coli are regarded as adulterants.

"I think the USDA has to go back to Congress and get clear pathogen reduction authority,'' she said. Before the court rulings, levels of Salmonella pathogens found in raw meat products were declining from 1996 to 2000, demonstrating the industry has an ability to reduce the pathogen levels, DeWaal said.

calendar icon 23 March 2006
clock icon 1 minute read
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