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USDA introduces ‘fix’ in testing for Salmonella in poultry

Instructions for testing personnel to use a new “neutralizing buffer” solution to reduce the effect of antimicrobial sanitizers take effect today at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The “fix,” explained in a two-page FSIS Notice, is intended to address a problem turned up in research by USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS).

ARS agricultural engineer Yud-Ren Chen is developing a computer-directed scanning system that could help speed inspection of the nearly 8 billion chickens processed annually through federally inspected U.S. plants. Photograph taken by Keith Weller (ARS).

ARS agricultural engineer Yud-Ren Chen is developing a computer-directed scanning system that could help speed inspection of the nearly 8 billion chickens processed annually through federally inspected U.S. plants. Photograph taken by Keith Weller (ARS).

ARS researchers found that three sanitizers used on poultry carcasses to reduce pathogens might also cause false negatives in tests for Salmonella.

The issue immediately drew interest from U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and also U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

The four wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to suggest that if the sanitizers are causing some number of false negatives for Salmonella, it might mean that the Salmonella rates on poultry are being underestimated.

The ARS study was conducted at the request of FSIS to determine whether antimicrobial solutions might interfere with Salmonella tests, but officials also said it was not in line with actual practices at poultry facilities.

The four members of Congress who wrote to Vilsack favor consistent Salmonella testing at all poultry plants in the country, and they’ve also asked for information on how many poultry plants use one or more of the sanitizers included in the ARS report.

FSIS employees are getting one hour of paid time to read and study the new neutralizing buffering method. After July 1, inspection personnel are instructed to use the neutralizing buffer for verification sampling of young chicken and turkey carcasses and chicken parts. The agency notes that the neutralizing buffer is cloudy in appearance and should not be discarded because of that.

FSIS believes the new solution will eliminate any problem of antimicrobial carryover in its Salmonella tests.

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