Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

FSIS Salmonella Action Plan Criticized for HIMP Emphasis

Food-safety advocates are praising the U.S. Department of Agriculture for releasing its Salmonella Action Plan while also criticizing it for not going far enough in reducing the estimated 1.3 million illnesses caused by the pathogen each year.

Much of the concern over the plan regards the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” proposal, which the plan names as a top priority.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said that the plan doesn’t make the proposed system – which speeds up processing lines and reduces the number of FSIS inspectors in plants – “any more logical or protective of public health. It is still a deregulation of the poultry industry that will put consumers, workers, and even animal welfare at risk.”

Hauter questioned the agency’s Salmonella reduction statistics and suggested that, rather than moving forward with the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), the “Obama administration needs to get the legal authority from Congress to hold companies accountable for putting contaminated food into commerce.”

The Center for Progressive Reform also viewed the plan’s emphasis on HIMP as a mistake. CPR President Rena Steinzor said it’s simply an attempt to re-market the rule.

“To justify moving forward with their proposal, debunked twice by GAO, they rely on data the FSIS itself considers faulty,” Steinzor said.

She added that the “toothless” plan also failed to address issues with plants knowing when they’re about to be tested and the use of increasingly strong anti-microbial chemicals that potentially mask contamination.

“While USDA’s initiative in issuing this plan is to be applauded, the substance falls short in addressing this important public health issue,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said in a statement issued jointly with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

DeLauro questioned whether expanding the proposed poultry slaughter program is a good idea after a Government Accountability Office report released in September referenced major flaws in the program.

“Meat is continuing to leave these processing facilities contaminated with Salmonella,” DeLauro said. “We should be fixing the source of the problem, not leaving it up to consumers to guess whether their dinner will send them to the hospital.”

“I appreciate that USDA is paying more attention to the issue of Salmonella,” Slaughter said. “However, the root of the problem with resistant superbacteria is the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture creating that resistance.”

Like Slaughter, Sarah Klein, a senior food safety attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is especially concerned about antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. The new plan “completely ignores” the issue, she said.

“It is shocking for the agency to have stayed on the sidelines of this public health crisis, particularly in the two-and-a-half years since CSPI petitioned the agency to declare certain strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella to be adulterants,” Klein said.

Klein did note the “moving window” plan as an important improvement, but still called on FSIS to test every poultry and beef slaughter plant every week for Salmonella, which she said would be “critically important for the agency’s controversial plan for revamping poultry inspection.”

© Food Safety News
  • John Mark Carter

    Are we asking for pathogen-free chicken that is also antibiotic-free? I’m not sure that’s possible. We’re certainly not going to have pathogen-free birds, if we let them outdoors to eat bugs. And even fresh produce occasionally has pathogens.

  • John Munsell

    Rep DeLauro is quoted above as saying “We should be fixing the source of the problem…”, an erudite statement which FSIS continues to circumvent. Sarah Klein is quoted above as suggesting that FSIS test every poultry and beef slaughter plant every week for Salmonella. Sorry Sarah, don’t hold your breath. On page 1 of the agency’s Salmonella Action Plan released this week, the following statement is found: “Test comminuted poultry in order to generate data for a new performance standard”. Thus, FSIS will focus its testing on ground poultry, while ignoring intact poultry carcasses, from which Salmonellae emanate. Thus, when downstream plants which purchase poultry from slaughter plants, and further processes the poultry into various products, including ground (comminuted) poultry, only then will the agency test for Salmonella. And when positives are discovered, you guessed it, the further processing plant will face the full fury of FSIS enforcement actions (remember Supreme Beef), and be charged with failures in their HACCP Plans, while the source slaughter plant which INTRODUCED the salmonella onto the carcasses is free to continue business as is. Granted, the new Action Plan also states “continue to investigate whether there are products currently not subject to sampling that should be….” FSIS already is fully cognizant that intact poultry carcasses should likewise be tested for Salmonella, but is fearful of legal backlash from the largest kill plants if carcass testing should occur. However, perhaps the most devious and heinous aspect of this new Plan, as with HIMP, is that FSIS still fails to disclose the incidence of agency-conducted microbial sampling it promises to conduct at poultry and HIMP plants. Sarah Klein briefly touches on this issue above in which she suggests weekly FSIS Salmonella sampling at every poultry and beef plant. Sarah’s suggestion is inadequate. At huge slaughter plants, killing thousands of poultry daily, FSIS should collect more than one sample daily, to quickly determine when a plant’s slaughter protocol experiences failures. Small plants, which might kill 1 day or less a week, perhaps 1 sample monthly is adequate. Bottom line: FSIS has, to date, ingeniously failed to reveal to the public the frequency of microbial sampling it promises to conduct at HIMP plants, and at poultry plants under their most recent Salmonella Action Plan. Think of the beauty of keeping us in the dark: when future recalls occur, and we ask the agency for results of their microbial sampling, we’ll be shocked at the paucity of agency-conducted sampling. But, the agency will smugly respond that they never PROMISED us they would utilize a meaningful sampling program, and will state that HIMP and the new Action Plan simply gave them the right to sample. If the agency is sincerely interested in implementing a thoroughly adequate sampling protocol, to determine the SOURCE of salmonella-laced meat, it would gladly reveal details of their intended sampling protocol to the public. Frankly, the agency desires to perform as little sampling as possible. Why? Because ongoing adverse lab reports would deny FSIS from claiming ignorance of systemic sanitation problems, while forcing the agency to implement meaningful enforcement actions at the largest kill plants, demanding effective corrective actions to prevent recurrences. FSIS totally lacks the courage to attempt such enforcement actions…..at the largest packers. Does no one else smell a rat here? John Munsell