According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. enjoys one of the safest food supplies on earth. But even so, the presence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in leads to more than 2 million consumer illnesses annually. The CDC also says that deaths related to these pathogens come more from poultry than any other source. For this reason, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an intensive review of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent performance in a report released October 20, 2014. In a review of the last 8 years, the GAO noted the USDA has sought to reduce the amount of disease-related bacteria, like Salmonella, in the nation’s poultry supply. Among the many actions taken, the USDA has:
• Reduced the allowable limits for the presence of Salmonella in young chickens;
• Implemented related limits (implemented in 2011) on the presence of Campylobacter in young chickens;
• Promulgated guidelines (in 2010) on farming practices for controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter at the farm level;
• Drawn up an Action Plan listing actions to be taken to control the spread of pathogens; and
• Promulgated a Final Rule that modernizes inspections of the poultry slaughter process.
The GOA, while noting the progress the USDA has made since 2006, also notes that USDA has done little to establish how successful its new policies have been in reducing human illness. The GOA encourages the USDA to “develop additional performance measures” that include the some way of gauging the effectiveness of these measures.
In addition, GOA points to the instances where much work remains to be done, such as extending the limitations on the presence of Salmonella in ground poultry and advancement of enforcement of limitations already on the books. Likewise, enforcement in the production of young turkeys is in its infancy, a problem the USDA says is not a priority since plants producing young turkeys have traditionally been in compliance with limits on the presence of Salmonella. As for the presence of Salmonella in ground poultry, the USDA, has stated that it needs more information before placing limitations on the presence of Salmonella before it can promulgate new limits. The USDA is currently engaged in a study and anticipates having more information about the processes by year’s end.
Salmonella lawyer Ron Simon agrees with the GOA assessment, stating “as a food safety lawyer I have been calling for many of these measures for years, and especially so in light of the lengthy Salmonella outbreak liked to Foster Farms. It’s time for poultry producers to eliminate the presence of dangerous pathogens in our food supply that threaten consumer health.”