The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit focused on nutrition and food safety, has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking to classify four antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as adulterants.

If the petition were accepted, USDA would test ground meat and poultry for Salmonella Heidelberg, Newport, Hadar, and Typhimuriumin, drug-resistant strains that have been found to be responsible for  several outbreaks of foodborne illness. 

“Those illnesses are harder for physicians to treat, resulting in longer hospitalizations and increased mortality,” said CSPI in the announcement.

“The only thing worse than getting sick from food is being told that no drugs exist to treat your illness,” said CSPI food safety staff attorney Sarah Klein in a statement. “And that’s what more consumers will hear if these drug-resistant pathogens keep getting into our meat.”

The group noted that while USDA already recalls products contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, it does so after products are linked to illnesses.

“USDA should take action before people get sick, and require controls and testing for these pathogens before they reach consumers,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal.  “The research shows that antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground meat and poultry is a hazard and it’s time to move to a more preventive system of controlling the risks at the plant and on the farm.”

CSPI points to a 2009 outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Newport ultimately linked to Cargill beef and 40 illnesses in four states.  This year USDA oversaw a recall of frozen turkey burgers contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Hadar, which sickened at least 12 people.