USDA Eyes Deeming Salmonella ‘Adulterant’ in Some Chicken Products

April 25, 2023 by Dan McCue
USDA Eyes Deeming Salmonella ‘Adulterant’ in Some Chicken Products
Chickens. (Photo by Klimkin via Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed declaring salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products in an effort to further control contamination and reduce foodborne illnesses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella bacteria cause roughly 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year.

Of these infections, nearly a quarter are attributed to poultry consumption.

Data from USDA’s Economic Research Service further 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.

Last year, the department rolled out a proposed regulatory framework intended to better control salmonella contamination in poultry products. 

Tuesday’s announcement “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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a written statement.

Under the proposal, the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service would consider any breaded stuffed raw chicken products that include a chicken component that tested positive for salmonella at 1 colony forming unit per gram prior to stuffing and breading to be adulterated. 

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 those producing these parts are taking steps to 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 products covered by Tuesday’s proposal are breaded stuffed raw chicken products that are pre-browned and may appear cooked, but are still essentially raw.

These products are stuffed with ingredients, such as a raw vegetable, butter, cheese or meat such as ham. 

The products are typically cooked by consumers from a frozen state, which increases the risk of the product not reaching the internal temperature needed to destroy salmonella. 

In addition, it may be difficult for a consumer to determine an accurate internal temperature of these products because they contain multiple ingredients that may cook at different rates.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service said it proposed the new standard for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that since 1998, it has 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, the Agriculture Department said, these products continue to be associated with salmonella illness outbreaks. 

Additionally, data from outbreaks and 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.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service 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 www.regulations.gov; by mail sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3758, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700, or by hand or courier delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Jamie L. Whitten Building, Room 350-E, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700. 

All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2022-0013.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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