USDA to declare salmonella an adulterant in some food products

Photo (c) Stevica Mrdja EyeEm - Getty Images

The move could prevent contaminated poultry products from being distributed

Following repeated recalls of salmonella-tainted food products, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is moving to declare salmonella to be an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products.

The FSIS, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), says taking this step will enable regulators to intercept contaminated products before they are shipped and will improve food safety.

“Food safety is at the heart of everything FSIS does,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “That mission will guide us as this important first step launches a broader initiative to reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry in the U.S.”

Since 1998, the agency says breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been associated with up to 14 salmonella outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses. By declaring salmonella to be an adulterant in these products, the FSIS said it will be able to ensure that food products contaminated with salmonella are not sold to consumers. 

Typically, adulterants are things purposefully added to a food product by the processor. By declaring salmonella to be an adulterant, inspectors would have to specifically screen for it before it could be packaged and distributed.

Applause from food safety groups

This creative approach is winning applause from some food safety groups, including Stop Foodborne Illness, which said the proposed rule, which is now open for public comment, would require salmonella testing for poultry flocks that enter facilities.

"STOP supports meaningful and enforceable Salmonella product standards that determine which products can safely enter the market and those which cannot,” said Mitzi Baum, CEO of STOP. “We, along with consumers, have been petitioning the agency for these modern advancements, along with our colleagues from the Coalition for New Poultry Safety Program." 

Salmonella outbreaks are so common that ConsumerAffairs had dedicated an entire section to these recalls. In a recall last month, Deskins Candies of Bluefield, West Virginia, recalled several of its peanut and fudge products because of salmonella contamination.

Under the FSIS’ proposed new rule, the adulterant designation would be first applied to breaded and stuffed raw poultry. These products are found in grocery store freezer sections and include some chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kiev products. 

According to the proposed rule, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products will be considered adulterated if they exceed a minimum level of salmonella contamination. The products would then be subject to regulatory action. 

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