Two years, four months, and 12 days later,  USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service have answered petitioners who want 31 Salmonella serotypes to be adulterants of all meat and poultry products.

And as they say at the Kremlin, the answer is “Nyet!”

The official denial of the petition, submitted by nationally-known food safety attorney Bill Marler on behalf of Rick Schiller, Steven Romes, the Porter Family, Food & Water Watch, the Consumer Federation of America, and Consumer Reports,  occurred on May 31. (Marler is also the publisher of Food Safety News.)

 The petition asked FSIS to declare 31 Salmonella serotypes to be adulterants of all meat and poultry products subject to the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act just, as it has done for certain strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in certain beef products.

In the petition, Marler argued that the action is necessary because the agency’s current efforts are ineffective at reducing human illness associated with Salmonella.

In its denial, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said it does not believe that there is sufficient data available at this time to support the “sweeping actions” requested in the petition. FSIS  told Marler that it was denying the petition without prejudice, but proceeding with a reevaluation of its approach to controlling Salmonella in poultry. As part of this reevaluation, “we are considering many of the points and arguments made in your petition.”

“In undertaking our Salmonella in poultry initiative, FSIS agrees that we need to rethink our existing strategy 4 to further reduce instances of human salmonellosis associated with the products we regulate,” the agency said. “Despite reductions in the prevalence of Salmonella contamination in meat and poultry products, FSIS-regulated products are linked to a significant portion of the approximately 1.35 million cases of salmonellosis that occur each year. We are focusing on poultry products. because they are associated with nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of all Salmonella infections.”

FSIS said an updated Salmonella strategy is necessary to reduce such illnesses. It makes several points about  that process:

  •  It is actively gathering data and information necessary to support a revised strategy that it hopes will be more effective.
  • FSIS  hosted a research and science roundtable in February 2022 to solicit input from the scientific community on the scientific support for various strategies to control Salmonella in poultry.
  • It is also leveraging USDA’s strong research capabilities and strengthening its partnership with the Research, Education, and Economics mission area to address data gaps and develop new laboratory methods to guide future Salmonella policy.
  • FSIS has asked the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Food (NACMCF), an independent federal advisory committee, to look into how the agency can build on the latest science to improve its approach to Salmonella control.
  • FSIS is also conducting a 10-risk assessment for Salmonella subtypes in poultry products associated with foodborne illness.
  • Some of FSIS’ other activities in this area include exploring more efficient methods to enumerate pathogens in samples, detect virulence factors in pathogens for potential risk ranking, and investigate new pathogen characterization methods.

FSIS says Marler’s petition contends that Salmonella should be considered an adulterant because it is an “added substance” and “may render injurious” a food contaminated with it.

“Alternatively, assuming Salmonella is ‘naturally occurring,’ you contend that it is ‘ordinarily injurious’ in all meat and poultry products regulated by FSIS,” the agency’s denial says. “At this time, FSIS cannot justify issuing the broad interpretive rule that you request, which would declare that all Salmonella are ‘added substances’ in all products. Moreover, FSIS is not persuaded by your argument that the court’s interpretation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) in Anderson Seafoods12 applies to Salmonella in products regulated by FSIS. The Anderson Seafoods case differs in several material respects from the subject matter of the petition.”

“While FSIS has traditionally viewed Salmonella as ‘naturally occurring’ in food animals, we are reassessing this interpretation as part of our Salmonella in poultry initiative and considering whether Salmonella should be considered an adulterant in any poultry products,” it continues,

FSIS says when it declared seven E. coli strains (O157:H7, O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145) to be adulterants in many non-intact raw beef products and intact source materials for raw ground beef, that determination was based on, among other considerations, the fact that, for these strains, the infectious dose is low.

It said ground beef contaminated with these STEC strains may cause serious, potentially life-threatening, illnesses, and what many consumers consider to be ordinary cooking of ground beef does not destroy these pathogens.

“Regarding your arguments related to dose-response, serotypes, and virulence factors, we are reviewing the most up-to-date science to determine whether any Salmonella serotypes have a uniformly, relatively low infectious dose,” FSIS wrote to Marler. “As your petition acknowledges, the likelihood of individuals contracting salmonellosis is dependent on a variety of factors. Studies indicate that, in addition to serotype, the probability of illness associated with the dose of a pathogen may be influenced by variables including host factors and the food matrix.”

FSIS said  Salmonella virulence factors, are not as well understood as for STEC strains. “Therefore, FSIS does not concur with the petitioners’ position that all of the identified serotypes in your petition necessarily represent strains with higher virulence in all meat and poultry products, ” it added.

FSIS addressed two other points in the Marler petition before  telling the lawyer that he may submit a revised petition that contains additional information to support the requested or other action,  Those two final points were:

  • “First, although the petition refers to the identified serotypes as “Outbreak Serotypes,” not all are associated with human illness outbreaks caused by FSIS-regulated products,
  • Second, the petition discusses FSIS’ decision to allow certain poultry establishments to increase line speed; it also addresses instances of inhumane handling and associated recalls.

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