USDA today took another step to make the products it regulates safer by banning some poultry products from being contaminated with a pathogen that causes foodborne illness in people. Since May 2022, it’s been known that the Biden Administration was going to come out with a new Salmonella in poultry initiative.

Today’s announcement by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is for a proposed determination to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded, stuffed raw chicken products when they exceed a very low level of Salmonella contamination. 

The FSIS sees the announcement as a significant first step that builds on the USDA agency’s proposed regulatory framework to reduce Salmonella infections linked to poultry products, released in October 2022. 

“Given the number of outbreaks linked to this type of product, I am pleased, but not surprised that FSIS took this step,” said Seattle attorney Bill Marler. “Perhaps it is time for FSIS to take the position that all pathogens that can kill you in meat are adulterants. FSIS has the authority – it just needs to use it.”

Marler, the nation’s best-known attorney for victims of foodborne illness, is also the publisher of Food Safety News. He has petitioned FSIS to ban all Salmonella strains that cause human illnesses from meat and poultry.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Salmonella bacteria cause approximately 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the United States every year.

Of those infections, more than 23 percent are attributed to poultry consumption. Foodborne illness can have a devastating impact, both personally and financially, on people’s lives, the cost of which reverberates through the economy. Data from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) show the total cost for foodborne Salmonella infections in the United States is a staggering $4.1 billion annually and the cost for the loss of productivity to the economy is $88 million. These are real costs to real people that can and should be prevented.

“USDA is taking science-based, decisive action to drive down Salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Today’s proposal represents the first step in a broader effort to control Salmonella contamination in all poultry products, as well as a continued commitment to protecting American consumers from foodborne illness.” 

Two months ago in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee, National Chicken Council President Mike Brown expressed opposition to USDA’s planned action.

“As USDA has consistently recognized, Salmonella is not an adulterant in raw poultry because it is not an added substance and occurs naturally within the chicken biome, Brown said. “Salmonella can exist in a chicken’s skin, muscle tissue, and gut, and healthy, asymptomatic birds are known to carry Salmonella.

“As USDA has also consistently recognized, Salmonella is not present in levels that ordinarily render chicken injurious to health because customary cooking practices call for thoroughly cooking raw chicken, which destroys any Salmonella that may be present. Cooking raw chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F achieves a 7-log reduction in Salmonella.”

Under today’s proposal, the FSIS would consider any breaded stuffed raw chicken products that include a chicken component that tested positive for Salmonella at 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram prior to stuffing and breading to be adulterated.

The FSIS is also proposing to carry out verification procedures, including sampling and testing of the chicken component of breaded stuffed raw chicken products prior to stuffing and breading, to ensure producing establishments control Salmonella in these products. If the chicken component in these products does not meet this standard, the product lot represented by the sampled component would not be permitted to be used to produce the final breaded stuffed raw chicken products. The chicken component represented by the sampled lot would need to be diverted to a use other than breaded stuffed raw chicken products.

Breaded stuffed raw chicken products are pre-browned and may appear cooked, but the chicken is raw. These products are stuffed with ingredients, such as raw vegetables, butter, cheese, or meat such as ham. The products are typically cooked by consumers from a frozen state, which increases the risk of the products not reaching the internal temperature needed to destroy Salmonella. In addition, it may be difficult for a consumer to determine the accurate internal temperature of these products because they contain multiple ingredients that may cook at different rates.

In proposing to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded, stuffed raw chicken products, the FSIS based its decision on several factors, including that since 1998, FSIS and its public health partners have investigated 14 Salmonella outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses associated with these products. The most recent outbreak was in 2021 and resulted in illnesses across 11 states. 

The labeling of these products has undergone significant changes over time to better inform consumers that they are raw and to provide instructions on how to prepare them safely. Despite these efforts to improve labeling, these products continue to be associated with Salmonella illness outbreaks. Additionally, data from outbreaks and the FSIS’ consumer research show that some people may not realize these products contain raw chicken because the outside may appear browned and cooked, which leads them to believe that the product is safe to eat as is or not cook the product to a safe internal temperature.

FSIS is seeking public comments on the proposed determination and the proposed verification sampling program. 

Comments on the proposed determination and verification procedures must be received within 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  

Comments may be submitted online via the Federal eRulemaking portal, available at; by mail sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3758, Washington, DC 20250-3700; or by hand or courier delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Jamie L. Whitten Building, Room 350-E, Washington, DC 20250-3700. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2022-0013.

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