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Feds delay poultry testing; expect many operations to fail

Certain poultry producers have a few extra weeks to beef up their pathogen reduction programs, which were scheduled to face new Salmonella and Campylobacter testing beginning in May.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) won’t begin assessing whether poultry operations are meeting new pathogen reduction standards until July 1, according to a recent USDA update. The delay is necessary to allow inspectors additional time to become familiar with new instructions on sampling procedures, the agency reported.

When they do hit the road, the inspectors will be collecting more samples than they did in the past as the FSIS pursues the goal of reducing human illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter in “chicken parts and comminuted chicken and turkey products,” according to a Federal Register notice published earlier this year.

Federal officials expect more than half of chicken operations will fail, at least initially.

“FSIS estimates that approximately 63 percent of raw chicken parts producing establishments, 62 percent of NRTE (not-ready-to-eat) comminuted chicken producing establishments, and 58 percent of NRTE comminuted turkey producing establishments will not meet the new Salmonella standards,” the agency stated in the Federal Register.

The expectations for reducing Campylobacter are better. However, FSIS still estimates that 46 percent of raw chicken parts producing establishments, 24 percent of NRTE comminuted chicken producing establishments, and 9 percent of NRTE comminuted turkey producing establishments will not meet the new Campylobacter standards.

Chicken parts and the other poultry products are in the crosshairs because they have historically shown much higher pathogen levels than ground beef or pork chops, FSIS reported.

“Recent research supports that poultry represents the largest fraction of Salmonella and Campylobacter illnesses attributed to FSIS-regulated products,” the Federal Register notice states.

In 2013, a total of 4,514 non-typhoidal Salmonella isolates were tested, 2,178 from humans, 353 from retail meats, 917 from PR/HACCP testing, and 1,066 from food animal ceca in March 2013. Source: NARMS

In 2013, a total of 4,514 non-typhoidal Salmonella isolates were tested, 2,178 from humans, 353 from retail meats, 917 from PR/HACCP testing, and 1,066 from food animal ceca in March 2013. Source: NARMS

“Furthermore, data from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) show that the incidence of Salmonella in poultry products is five to 10 times higher than that in ground beef or pork chops.”

Federal officials cited outbreaks in recent years involving the targeted chicken parts and other poultry products, including two Salmonella outbreaks this past year. Public health officials traced the two 2015 outbreaks to raw, frozen, stuffed chicken entrées from two separate establishments.

“In both outbreaks, the establishment involved did not consider implementing effective controls for the source materials or for the production process to know the frequency of contamination of source materials with Salmonella,” FSIS reported.

“Currently, events that cause contamination of raw carcasses cannot be eliminated through the commercial production and slaughter practices employed by the U.S. industry. Contamination can be minimized, however, with the use of proper sanitary dressing procedures and by the application of interventions during slaughter and fabrication of the carcasses into parts and comminuted product.”

Suggested changes will mean cost increases for some operations, but the procedures are not complicated. The FSIS reports that changes made by poultry slaughter establishments could include interventions such as:

  • vaccination programs;
  • well-timed feed withdrawal;
  • clean and dry litter and transportation, and
  • supplier contract guarantees of pathogen-free flocks.

During processing, establishments could add additional cleaning procedures, apply chemical antimicrobial agents to parts and source materials for comminuted poultry product, and provide additional sanitation training to employees.

In July, when inspectors begin assessing whether operations are meeting new pathogen reduction goals, the number of testing samples and frequency of sample collections will depend on the size and food safety record of specific facilities. The largest operations can expect to have inspectors collecting samples four or five times a month, roughly once a week, according to the new procedures.

Regardless of an operation’s size, FSIS will post assessment results on its website for public review. The agency will use the following categories and pass/fail designations when posting results:

  • Category 1 — Consistent Process Control: Establishments that have achieved 50 percent or less of the Salmonella or Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive during all completed 52-week moving windows over the last three months.
  • Category 2 — Variable Process Control: Establishments that meet the Salmonella or Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive for all completed 52-week moving windows but have results greater than 50 percent of the maximum allowable percent positive during any completed 52-week moving window over the last three months.
  • Category 3 — Highly Variable Process Control: Establishments that have exceeded the Salmonella or Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive during any completed 52-week moving window over the last three months.
  • Passing — Establishments that meet the Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive for NRTE comminuted chicken or turkey during all completed 52-week moving windows over the last three months.
  • Failing — Establishments that have exceeded the Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive for NRTE comminuted chicken or turkey during any completed 52-week moving window over the last three months.

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