The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has made a major breakthrough for public food safety, announcing Salmonella as an official adulterant of some chicken products. Although it may seem like common knowledge that chicken products have a proclivity for causing Salmonella infections, Salmonella was never officially declared as an adulterant in chicken products and has remained unregulated. Unlike Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli were declared to be adulterants, or substances that compromise the safety of a products, in chicken products decades ago, after multiple outbreaks. Listeria was first declared to be an adulterant in 1987, and following shortly after in 1994, E. coli was declared to be an adulterant after a Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak caused 700 illnesses, 171 hospitalizations, and 4 deaths.
By classifying Salmonella as an adulterant of some chicken products, the FSIS is warranted to enforce regulated to-market protocols, including conducting standardized food safety testing and monitoring cleaning standards. These protocols are meant to reduce the rising rates of Salmonella infections and increasing costs of Salmonella illnesses and food recalls. However, the initiative focuses solely on stuffed, breaded and raw chicken products. While the term adulterant will not apply to all chicken products, if passed, the FSIS’s first step to regulate Salmonella contamination in chicken products will hopefully lead to further initiatives and regulations, as well as increased testing and cleaning standards for the chicken industry.
The FSIS’s proposed initiative to decrease Salmonella infections in poultry products can be attributed to the rising number of infections and annual costs of Salmonella infections. Approximately 1.35 million human Salmonella infections are reported in the United States every year. Of these infections, at least 26,500 people require hospitalizations for treatment. The CDC believes that over 23% of all United States Salmonella infections can be attributed to consuming contaminated poultry products. The total cost of these infections has been estimated by the USDA’s Economic Research Service to be $4.1 billion annually, with an additional loss of $88 million in production costs. These costs can be attributed to both the personal and financial costs for people with Salmonella infections and the loss of productivity in companies with recalls.