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USDA’s Failed Salmonella Policy

Denmark takes its Salmonella seriously – even in raw poultry.

Since the beginning of this year, Denmark has recorded seven recalls of raw poultry products due to Salmonella contamination. The recalled chicken and turkey products originated in Brazil (1 recall), Denmark (1 recall), Hungary (3 recalls), Germany (1 recall), and Poland (1 recall).

There were NO Salmonella outbreaks associated with or triggering any of these recalls. Just the detection of Salmonella in a sample of the raw poultry meat. And, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, only one of the recalled items was domestic – raw turkey products that were suspected of being contaminated with Salmonella. Not confirmed. Merely suspected.

Things are different in the USA. USDA accepts – indeed, expects – to find Salmonella in a significant fraction of raw poultry samples. In the fourth quarter of 2010, 4.2% of turkeys, 9.5% of broiler chickens, 9% of raw ground turkey samples and nearly 23% of raw ground chicken samples analyzed under USDA’s HACCP Verification Testing Program were positive for Salmonella.

It’s clear that USDA’s Salmonella policy is not working. CDC has identified two outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella illnesses this year – Salmonella Hadar associated with Jennie-O turkey burgers and Salmonella Heidelberg believed to be linked to ground turkey – that are associated with raw turkey meat. In 2010, an outbreak of Salmonella Chester illnesses was traced to contaminated Marie Callender frozen entr√©es. And in 2007, ConAgra (Banquet Foods) frozen pot pies were responsible for more than 270 illnesses and at least 65 hospitalizations.

We cannot even rely on USDA’s reported incidence levels of Salmonella in broiler and turkey carcasses, because the agency’s sampling method is badly flawed. One might almost conclude that the procedure was designed to underreport the true incidence of Salmonella in our raw poultry.

This is how USDA samples poultry carcasses for Salmonella testing (from the FSIS Laboratory Guidebook):

4.5.6 Whole Bird Rinses

Due to differences between sample types/sizes (e.g. chicken vs. turkey carcasses), follow instructions given in the specific program protocol.

a. For chicken carcasses, aseptically drain excess fluid from the carcass and transfer the carcass to a sterile Stomacher 3500 bag, or equivalent.

b. Pour 400 ml (or other volume specified in program protocol) of BPW into the cavity of the carcass contained in the bag.

c. Rinse the bird inside and out with a rocking motion for one minute (ca. 35 RPM). This is done by grasping the broiler carcass in the bag with one hand and the closed top of the bag with the other. Rock with a reciprocal motion in about an 18-24 inch arc, assuring that all surfaces (interior and exterior of the carcass) are rinsed.

d. Transfer the sample rinse fluid to a sterile container.

e. Use 30 ± 0.6 ml of the sample rinse fluid obtained above for Salmonella analysis. Add 30 ± 0.6 ml of sterile BPW and mix well.

f. Incubate at 35 ± 2C for 20-24 h.

g. Proceed to Section 4.6 to continue the cultural analysis or refer to MLG 4C for use of the BAX® PCR Assay.

Here are my problems with USDA’s method:

– The first step in the procedure is to throw away excess fluid from the carcass – the very material that is most likely to contain Salmonella.

– The carcass is rinsed with 400 ml (about 13.5 fluid ounces) of liquid – no problem there, if all of the liquid was used in the test. But USDA only uses 30 ml – less than 10% – of the rinse liquid for the Salmonella test.

In essence, USDA has dumbed down its Salmonella test, reducing the sensitivity of the test to less than 10% of what it should be – and easily could be.

USDA is fooling itself if the agency truly believes that its Salmonella data are valid. And it is misleading the US consumer.

The technology is available to address the problem of Salmonella in poultry. Just ask Denmark, or any of the Scandinavian countries.

The technology is available to test for Salmonella in poultry effectively. Just ask any non-USDA food microbiology lab.

It’s time to stop messing around with this food safety time bomb.

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“USDA’s Failed Salmonella Policy” was first posted on eFoodAlert on Aug. 3, 2011.  Reposted with permission.

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    “Things are different in the USA. USDA accepts – indeed, expects – to find Salmonella in a significant fraction of raw poultry samples.”
    ………..where the disease organisms are delivered “fresh” (well, processed) directly from US CAFO-style factory farms and processing plants to your neighborhood supermarket cooler…..
    No surprise, since the Agribusiness Foxes are completely in charge of regulating the henhouse………..
    “We cannot even rely on USDA’s reported incidence levels of Salmonella in broiler and turkey carcasses, because the agency’s sampling method is badly flawed. One might almost conclude that the procedure was designed to underreport the true incidence of Salmonella in our raw poultry.”

  • the microbist

    You have to ask when the samples are being collected, aren’t the carcasses pulled immediately after coming out of the chiller? Then it would make sense to discard the excess liquid, as it would likely contain highly chlorinated water which would impede detection. With the rinses, do you propose that they proceed with the enrichment of the entire volume of the rinse? How would that improve sensitivity? There would be more background flora for the Salmonella to compete with, which would probably also impede detection. Regardless of the initial volume sampled, the subsequent steps only transfer 1.1ml of the enrichment into selective broths so by your logic the sensitivity is only 1.1/400 or 0.275% of what it should be.

  • hhamil

    Thanks for this article, Ms. Entis. I found it very comprehensible and educational.

  • http://efoodalert.wordpress.com pentis

    @the microbist
    1. Sampling is at the rehand and postchill stages
    2. If excess chlorine is a problem, this can be dealt with using a bit of sodium thiosulfate in the sampling rinse solution.
    3. When I used to test whole carcasses for Salmonella, our method was to rinse the entire carcass in one liter of a nutrient broth, remove the carcass from the liquid and incubate the ENTIRE one liter of broth. This will allow, in theory, the multiplication of even one viable Salmonella to a level that will be picked up in the transfer to selective broths – or by PCR methods.

  • Minkpuppy

    Another very valid reason that USDA salmonella testing is flawed is a dirty little secret that the Agency doesn’t want to address. I know this from personal experience as an inspector in a poultry plant.
    The plants know when a salmonella series is being conducted and purposely crank up the chlorine levels in the chiller and spray cabinet water beyond what they normally use in an attempt to make sure they “pass” the series.
    This practice has to skew the results unbelievably and there’s no possible way that the results the USDA is presenting is a true representation of the prevalence of salmonella on poultry carcasses.
    Inspectors have complained for years about the plants doing this but are not allowed to take action to stop it. How can it be a true result if the plant changes it’s process whenever it’s being tested, then changes back to what they doing before
    when the series ends?
    The agency needs to start listening to their employees and give the inspectors in the plants the right to stop these shenanigans when they see them. Give the plants enough downtime and they’ll change their tune quickly.

  • Ted

    I, for one, am glad you’re on the job, Minkpuppy.
    Your insider knowledge of what’s really going on in feel-good “inspected” facilities shows the relative powerlessness of the inspectors — and the powerfulness of the industry. Your whistle-blowing that exposes ongoing fraudulent facility practices that disguise and distort test results are highly invaluable as well.
    It’s evident this corruption has been tolerated at the upper industry-agency levels for years — maybe FSN as the new kid on the block is developing some real clout to shine a brighter light and put an end to these dangerous — and criminal, even — industry practices. Anyone know of a good food safety lawyer???

  • Doc Mudd

    Quite the eye opener, eh Gilman?
    Turns out your NOFA members discretely “policing themselves” via their own captive “organic certification” companies don’t have the market cornered on shenanigans and “feel-good inspection”, after all.
    http://www.iowawatch.org/?p=3596
    Inspection chicanery — it all seems pretty familiar to a NOFA operative and paid propagandist, doesn’t it?
    I agree we need to root out all the cute, chummy inspection charades from the food industry…organic food production industry included.
    .
    [Hey Gilman, we're dyin' to know: what have your FSN personnas "Ted", "BB", "DM", "JustTheFacts", "ICBM" & "Steve" done with your alterego "Ruby"? She hasn't 'taken her love to town', has she?]
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/07/antibiotics-lesson-for-gop-staff-tops-fda-calendar/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YI5iFLde5o
    Even paid NOFA propagandist personnas can have their little spats among themselves, I suppose.

  • Harry Hamil

    Thanks for this article, Ms. Entis. I found it very comprehensible and educational.

  • http://efoodalert.wordpress.com Phyllis Entis

    @the microbist
    1. Sampling is at the rehand and postchill stages
    2. If excess chlorine is a problem, this can be dealt with using a bit of sodium thiosulfate in the sampling rinse solution.
    3. When I used to test whole carcasses for Salmonella, our method was to rinse the entire carcass in one liter of a nutrient broth, remove the carcass from the liquid and incubate the ENTIRE one liter of broth. This will allow, in theory, the multiplication of even one viable Salmonella to a level that will be picked up in the transfer to selective broths – or by PCR methods.

  • Minkpuppy

    Keep living in your fantasy world, Mudd.
    Whether you believe it or not, I’ve seen this kind of BS monkey business going on for almost 20 years. I left the industry side of the meat business for USDA because I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do. I wasn’t going to look the other way anymore when they tried to push through meat products of dubious safety and quality. I just couldn’t sell my soul to the company store. Little did I know that I just chose the lesser of 2 evils.
    I thought I was going to make a difference as an inspector but I was mistaken. In spite of it all, I keep plugging along on this fool’s errand in the vain hope that there will be reform in FSIS and they’ll quit pandering to the AMI and National Poultry Council.
    Thanks to this crappy economy, I’m staying put in my job for now. I’m the sole provider in my humble little household so I can’t leave until I find an offer I can’t refuse. Or I win the lottery. I can dream, can’t I?

  • doc raymond

    Minkpuppy, can we talk off-line?

  • Ted

    You got nothing, Mudd. And since you got nothing, the only way you can participate, ad infinitum, in discussions is via the old ad hominem trick — “attacking an opponent‚Äôs motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain”– plus the usual finger-pointing, subject changing and (transparent) attempts at derailing and deflecting discourse.

  • Doc Mudd

    Too casual regulation and oversight across the food industry, conventional and organic, is what’s being exposed by this latest food poisoning outbreak.
    Probably a bad idea to thoughtlessly hurl stones when one’s own house is constructed of glass and tissue paper, eh Gilman?
    Slack quality/safety standards and fundamental conflicts of interest in regulating, conventional or organic, all look about the same from where we’re standin’.

  • Minkpuppy

    Doc Raymond: I sent you an email–check your spam box just in case.

  • the microbist

    @Phyllis Entis
    Thank you for the clarification, I guess I had my skeptic filter set a little too high last week.
    As for the other comments regarding company practices during testing, I worked for a little under a year as a poultry inspector and when the CSI’s were collecting carcass rinses there was a noticeable uptick in chlorine levels. It was bad enough that certain locations in the plant would make your eyes water and nasal cavities burn. Also, inspectors were sometimes chided by the Vets for enforcing regulations.