October 2, 2014 — A consumer safety group has submitted another petition demanding that the USDA take stronger action to keep antibiotic-resistant Salmonella out of our food.
The petition was filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The group submitted a similar petition several years ago, but it only included ground meat and poultry. The petition was denied in 2011.
Now, the group is demanding that all meat and poultry products will be declared “adulterated” if they are contaminated with Heidelberg, Typhimurium, Newport, or Hadar strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. The antibiotics are not commonly used to treat severe Salmonella infections, but people who are infected are more likely to be hospitalized.
If the USDA declares antibiotic-resistant Salmonella to be an adulterant, they would have to test for the bacteria and remove products that are contaminated — even if there have not been any cases of food poisoning. For example, E. coli O157:H7 was declared an adulterant in 1994 after 700 people were infected from eating undercooked hamburgers, including 3 people who died. Several strains of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli were added to the list in 2011.
Since 2011, CSPI says there have been two outbreaks of multi-drug resistant Salmonella linked to chicken from Foster Farms. The USDA briefly shut down some Foster Farms plants after finding sanitation issues, including cockroaches, feces, and mold in chicken-processing areas. The plants re-opened after Foster Farms pledged $75 million in improvements.
Those outbreaks sickened at least 750 people, including 233 who were hospitalized. According to the CPSC, four strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella have been linked to at least 2,358 illnesses, 424 hospitalizations, and eight deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1.2 million people get food poisoning from Salmonella every year, resulting in 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths. Poultry products are responsible for about 19% of fatalities.
Even so, the USDA allows Salmonella in poultry because they say it can be killed by cooking to a proper internal temperature. Unlike beef, which is routinely eaten rare or medium-rare, relatively few people prefer eating undercooked chicken.
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