Weekly Overview: US Makes Progress on Foodborne Disease

ANALYSIS - Overall prevalence of Salmonella in the US has fallen, according to a new report, although one poultry processor is having to work hard to demonstrate its commitment to consumer food safety after an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg was linked to its plant. The British Lion scheme in the UK shows that a food safety crisis can be the start of a real marketing success. Campylobacter remains a challenging food safety issue for the poultry industry.
calendar icon 31 October 2013
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A new report shows a continued decline in the prevalence of Salmonella on chicken carcasses in the US.

The prevalence of Salmonella on raw young chicken carcasses is down 34 per cent over the first quarter of 2013 and represents a decrease of over 120 per cent during the past five years.

The report, released by the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS), covered testing information from 1 April to 30 June 2013. For young chicken carcasses, 2,955 samples were collected and analysed with a positive rate of only 2.6 per cent for Salmonella – a fraction of the USDA FSIS performance standard of 7.5 per cent for young chicken carcasses.

The same samples were also analysed for Campylobacter and while the percentage of positive samples remained unchanged from the first quarter of 2013, it represents a decrease of almost 50 per cent since FSIS began testing for Campylobacter on post-chill young chicken carcasses in 2011.

“Overall, the results presented in this quarterly report indicate that we continue to make improvements in the incidence rate of Salmonella and Campylobacter on young chicken carcasses,” said Dr Ashley Peterson of the National Chicken Council (NCC).

While these trends are encouraging, there is no room for complacency. The poultry processor at the centre of a recent chicken recall due to Salmonella Heidelberg has released a statement highlighting its commitment to solving the issue.

Foster Farms said in a statement: "Salmonella is a complex issue for the poultry industry, particularly because the bacteria are inherent in bird species. Foster Farms is focused on breaking the chain of Salmonella at every stage of production – from the farms where the birds live, to the plants where the chicken is processed and to the packaging area."

The company stated that the bacteria have been tested and found not to show antibiotic-resistance to commonly used drugs in human medicine, contrary to reports in some media.

In an effort to improve the safety of feed for farm animals, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a new rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This regulation would help prevent foodborne illness in both animals and people and is open for public comments for 120 days.

Also on food safety but outside the US, a consortium led by Dr Arnoud van Vliet of the UK's Institute of Food Research has received a significant grant to develop new tools to understand Campylobacter coli at the molecular and genetic levels.

Food safety assurance schemes can be a success. This week - on 2 November 2013 - sees the launch of a new version of the British Lion Code of Practice, marking the 15th anniversary of the Code and the return of the ‘little Lion’ to British eggs.

The Lion scheme has effectively eradicated Salmonella in British eggs and reversed a long-term sales decline, with egg consumption now back to its highest level since before the original 'Salmonella crisis' 25 years ago, and an increase in more than £300 million in the retail market value since 1998.

Back in the US, the NCC has issued a strong response to a recent article in The Washington Post, which alleged plans to speed up poultry processing lines could be detrimental to bird welfare.

According to the NCC: "There is no data to suggest that modernising the poultry inspection system would lead to increased non-compliance reports related to the care of the birds. It is unfortunate that the inspectors union and animal rights activists are attempting to derail real progress in making our food supply even safer."

In other news, the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands has officially approved Meyn's footpad inspection system for broilers in Dutch slaughterhouses.

This approval makes it possible to eliminate manual sampling, analysis and reporting of the footpad lesions per flock. Footpad lesion prevalence and severity are among the measures for assessing welfare standards on farms.

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