The nonprofit organization Consumer Reports (CR) claims that the U.S. has a “widespread” problem with Salmonella contamination in chicken products at the retail level. CR conducted an investigation of ground meat, which, according to the group, reveals gaps in the way that meat is regulated in the U.S. and highlights the need for stronger efforts to protect consumers from Salmonella contamination in chicken. The CR announcement follows a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) report that shows a 75 percent reduction in Salmonella-contaminated chicken parts at slaughter and at retail, which has not translated to a reduction in cases of salmonellosis.
CR’s investigation found Salmonella in 31 percent (23 of 75) samples of ground chicken. CR states that no single brand stood out as statistically better or worse than another with regard to Salmonella contamination. CR also reports that there was no significant difference between Salmonella contamination in ground chicken from organic and conventionally raised birds. CR found that all of the Salmonella isolates from ground chicken samples were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and 78 percent were resistant to multiple drugs.
CR also found Salmonella in some of the ground beef, pork and turkey samples it analyzed. One sample of ground beef tested by CR contained Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 (STEC). CR alerted USDA of its findings, which prompted a recall of more than 28,000 pounds of the meat from major grocery chains.
USDA has declared STEC and six closely related strains as adulterants. Beef products containing certain E. coli strains cannot be legally sold, and manufacturers must recall all batches of the product that could be contaminated. CR is calling on USDA to take similar action against Salmonella. While USDA requires producers to test poultry for Salmonella, a processing facility is allowed to find certain levels of the pathogen in its products.
CR is urging USDA to set more aggressive goals to sharply reduce the percentage of chicken samples that are allowed to test positive for Salmonella. CR also requests that the agency focus on combatting the three Salmonella strains that pose the biggest threat to human health, which, in CR’s investigation, accounted for 91 percent of all Salmonella detected in ground chicken. CR also believes that USDA should be given more authority to inspect poultry plants and to close facilities when high Salmonella rates are found.