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USDA Gets Tougher on Salmonella in Raw Breaded Chicken Products
  • Posted April 26, 2024

USDA Gets Tougher on Salmonella in Raw Breaded Chicken Products

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is clamping down on salmonella bacteria found in breaded, stuffed raw chicken products, with the agency issuing a final rule on the issue Friday.

The agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has declared salmonella an “adulterant” if the amount of it in a product exceeds a very low level. That's similar to what the agency did in 1994 when it declared E. coli an adulterant in ground beef.

The new rule goes into effect in 2025.

About 1.4 million people are infected with salmonella every year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Since 1998, FSIS and its public health partners have investigated 14 salmonella outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses associated with these [chicken] products. The most recent outbreak was in 2021 and resulted in illnesses across 11 states," the USDA said in a news release when the rule was first proposed a year ago.

Almost a quarter of the nation's salmonella infections are caused by eating poultry.

“USDA is taking science-based, decisive action to drive down salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the news release. “Today's proposal represents the first step in a broader effort to control salmonella contamination in all poultry products, as well as a continued commitment to protecting American consumers from food-borne illness.”

The frozen chicken products under scrutiny can appear to be cooked because they are pre-browned and heat-treated. Yet the chicken is raw and home cooks may not always be cooking it for long enough to raise the internal temperature to a level that will kill the bacteria, the agency noted.

The products may also be stuffed with raw vegetables, butter, cheese or meat, and these ingredients may cook at different rates than chicken.

These products continue to be linked to salmonella outbreaks, even with new labeling meant to better inform customers that the products are raw, officials said.

Salmonella infections cost about $4.1 billion each year in the United States, with loss of productivity estimated at $88 million, the USDA said.

The new rule means that breaded, stuffed raw chicken products that test positive for salmonella at 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram prior to stuffing and breading will be considered adulterated.

Inspectors would sample and test the chicken in these products prior to stuffing and breading. If the chicken does not meet this standard, that lot could not be used to produce the final breaded items. Instead, it would need to be used in other ways besides these stuffed and breaded foods.

In a statement published last April when the rule was first proposed, Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said it "has the potential to shutter processing plants, cost jobs and take safe food and convenient products off shelves, without moving the needle on public health."

Symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Each year, salmonella causes about 26,500 hospitalizations.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on salmonella.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, news release, April 25, 2023

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