USDA to Publicize Salmonella Poultry PlantsFeb 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Salmonella prone poultry processors will soon have their names publicized. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be publishing the names of poultry and meat plants that have trouble controlling Salmonella to help reduce its prevalence in meat. Effective March 28th, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will publish—online—the names and test results for plants where over 10% of samples are contaminated with Salmonella.
The USDA said these changes are the result of a Salmonella-control initiative it launched two years ago after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Salmonella had become the most prevalent food borne pathogen, accounting for 38.6% of all cases. The initiative concentrates resources at establishments with higher levels of Salmonella and changes the reporting and use of FSIS verification test results. In the "risk-based" sampling program, poultry and meat plants are sorted into three categories according to their Salmonella test results. Best performers—category 1—are sampled by the USDA less often than those in categories 2 and 3. The names and locations of category 2 and 3 plants will be published on an FSIS Web site.
Laura Reiser, FSIS spokeswoman in Washington DC, said more plants are being tested under the new program, but the overall number of product samples will stay about the same with category 1 plants tested at least once every two years and category 2 plants at least once a year; category 3 plants may be tested multiple times annually. The FSIS collects about 75 sets of product samples for Salmonella testing monthly. A set is a series of samples collected at one site on successive days—51 days in the case of broiler chickens.
Chris Waldrop, spokesman for the Washington DC-based Consumer Federation of America, welcomed the move to name names. "We have talked to FSIS and encouraged them to post this information on the Web," he said. "It's good information for consumers to know," Waldrop said. Nancy Donley, president of Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP), an advocacy group based in Northbrook, Ill., praised the move but had some concerns that the plan will not enable consumers in grocery stores to see if meat came from a plant with a good record or not. "It's probably not going to be a huge benefit to the consumer. But it's going to make it more apparent to those of us who are watching who the good actors are and who the bad actors are," she said.
The FSIS is working on nationwide studies of the prevalence of various food borne pathogens to provide a baseline for future comparisons and trend spotting. A 12-month study of pathogens in broiler chickens is under way and more studies are being planned. Also, the FSIS is cutting back ground beef plant sampling for plants producing less than 1,000 pounds daily. Officials said those plants account for a large share of samples but a very small percentage of the ground beef supply. For efficiency, the agency will sample those plants less often but will run Salmonella tests on samples already collected for Escherichia coli O157 testing.