THE U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) released its "Salmonella Action Plan" Dec. 4 that outlines the steps it will take to address the most pressing problem the agency faces: salmonella in meat and poultry products.
An estimated 1.3 million illnesses can be attributed to salmonella every year, FSIS said.
"Far too many Americans are sickened by salmonella every year. The aggressive and comprehensive steps detailed in the 'Salmonella Action Plan' will protect consumers by making meat and poultry products safer," USDA undersecretary for food safety Elisabeth Hagen said.
The plan is the agency's strategy to best address the threat of salmonella in meat and poultry products. The plan identifies modernizing the outdated poultry slaughter inspection system as a top priority and notes that by focusing inspectors' duties solely on food safety, at least 5,000 illnesses can be prevented each year.
Enhancing salmonella sampling and testing programs is also part of this comprehensive effort, ensuring that these programs factor in the latest scientific information available and account for emerging trends in foodborne illness.
Inspectors will also be empowered with the tools necessary to expeditiously pinpoint problems, FSIS said. With more information about a plant's performance history and with better methods for assessing in-plant conditions, FSIS said its inspectors will be better positioned to detect salmonella earlier, before it can cause an outbreak.
In addition, the plan outlines several actions FSIS will take to drive innovations that will lower salmonella contamination rates, including establishing new performance standards; developing new strategies for inspection and throughout the full farm-to-table continuum; addressing all potential sources of salmonella, and focusing the agency's education and outreach tools on salmonella.
FSIS noted that its new efforts will build upon the work USDA has done over the past several years. In 2011, USDA strengthened the performance standards for salmonella in poultry with a goal of significantly reducing illnesses by 20,000 per year. Through the Salmonella Initiative Program, plants are now using processing techniques designed to directly reduce salmonella in raw meat and poultry.
FSIS credited these technologies and policies for reducing salmonella rates in young chickens by more than 75% since 2006.
The National Turkey Federation (NTF) said it is pleased to see that USDA's proposed modernization of poultry slaughter inspection is ranked as the first and most important strategy to lower salmonella illness rates.
The proposed inspection rule is a "modern, sensible approach that will allow the food safety inspectors to shift to prevention-oriented inspection systems and redeploy resources in a manner that better protects the public from all foodborne diseases, including salmonella," NTF said.