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USDA: Poultry Pathogen Reduction Working

The poultry industry’s anti-microbial actions from the “re-hang” to the “post-chill” steps in the young chick slaughter process are dramatically reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination on the birds, a recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study finds.

USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) collected 6,550 samples from young chick carcasses from two shifts at 182 federally inspected poultry slaughter operations between July 2007 and June 2008.

The number of samples positive for Salmonella dropped to 5.19 percent at the post-chill stage, down from 40.7 percent at the re-hang stage, the study found.   Likewise, the number of samples positive for Campylobacter dropped to 10.66 percent at the post-chill, down from 71.36 percent at the re-hang.

The National Chicken Council sees the study as proof that the industry’s investments in improved technology and bacteria-fighting interventions are paying off with safer poultry products for consumers.  Steve Pretanik, director of science and technology for the Council, says the industry is dramatically reducing the presence of disease-causing bacteria on raw chicken.

FSIS says “…these raw numbers should not be considered as the national prevalence because production volume was not taken into consideration during this analysis.  It is the intention of the Agency to estimate the national prevalence from this data and publish those results in a separate report.”

The two points where samples were taken–re-hang and post-chill–are steps in the chicken slaughter process.  Re-hang occurs after the picker is through with the bird before evisceration.   Post-chill comes as the chicken exists the chiller and all anti-microbial interventions have been completed.

FSIS took samples from production shifts 1 and 2, but found no statistical differences in results from working times.

In addition to testing for the two pathogens, Salmonella and Campylobacter, the study also looked for indicator bacteria including Generic Escherichia coli (E. coli), Total Aerobic Bacteria, Enterobacteriaceae, and Coliforms.

Chicken slaughterhouses that kill at least 100,000 birds annually were targeted for the study.  FSIS estimates these facilities slaughter 99 percent of the chickens processed under federal inspection.

Photo Credit:  USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)

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