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When is a food adulterant not an adulterant?

How can FSIS defend not doing something when the CDC estimates millions of Americans are sickened every year by salmonella and somewhere around 1,000 die each year.

When is a food adulterant not an adulterant? My answer to my own question is: “When it is salmonella.”

Yep, there is an apparent change in policy at FSIS to now issue recall notices for foodborne illness outbreaks caused by salmonella species that are pathogenic to we Homo sapiens.

The latest announcement came Dec. 22, the day I penned this blog and it was for raw ground turkey from another Jenny-O plant; this one in Faribault, Minn. The 82 tons of turkey meat was contaminated with Salmonella Reading and was implicated in dozens of illnesses.

Readers may recall that earlier in October of 2018 a Jenny-O plant in Barron, Wis., recalled 147,000 lb. of raw ground turkey contaminated with the same pathogen.

This outbreak with Salmonella Reading has now sickened 216, landed 84 in hospitals and has killed one Californian.

From Oct. 4 through Dec. 22, there have now been 14 recalls of beef and poultry products contaminated with salmonella. From Jan. 1, up to Oct. 3, there was just one recall for salmonella.

This represents a sea change at the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

When the House of Representatives changes to a Democratic majority in January, the push to declare pathogenic strains of salmonella and/or multidrug resistant strains of salmonella as meat and poultry adulterants will get amped up exponentially, using this spate of recalls and out breaks of foodborne illnesses and deaths as a spring board.

Congresswoman Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) will likely become chair of the House Ag Appropriations Committee and it is my bet one of his first actions will be to conduct a hearing on the subject and invited will be the new undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (if we ever get one) to explain her views on the subject of adulteration accompanied by parents of a child who died from a salmonella foodborne illness and some of the consumer groups like Consumer Federation of Americana and Center for Science in the Public Interest. 

Republicans are generally regarded as industry friendly and hesitant to make moves that could hurt industry. Democrats seem to loath industry and will make moves to pacify the consumer groups. The Democrats, the inspection union and the consumer groups are very strong allies.

FSIS at USDA has long used the circuit court’s decision in Supreme Beef vs. USDA that found that salmonella was “not an adulterant per se” as the basis for lack of action.

That will probably have to change as public opinion becomes more and more vocal.

I mean, how can FSIS defend not doing something when the CDC estimates that 1.2 million to 1.4 million Americans are sickened every year by salmonella and somewhere around 1,000 die each year, representing 30% or so of all foodborne illness deaths?

Granted, not all salmonella illnesses originate in meat and poultry.

But with 15% of chicken and poultry plants failing last year’s FSIS testing of parts, (and for a chicken plant to fail, more than 25% of its samples have to test positive for salmonella) I think you have “yuck factor” just as polarizing as lean finely textured beef, aka “pink slime”, was.

And we all know what happened in that fiasco, triggered by an overzealous television network.

I am certain that whoever testifies on behalf of USDA will get a thorough briefing on why salmonella has not been declared an adulterant; but just in case not, here is the existing USDA/FSIS law on adulteration, courtesy of Bill Marler, editor of Food Safety News and leading litigator on behalf of foodborne illness victims:

21 U.S.C. & 601(m)(4)-SUBCHAPTER I-INSPECTION REQUIREMENTS; ADULTERATION AND MISBRANDING-CHAPTER 12-MEAT INSPECTION-TITLE 21-FOOD AND DRUGS

(m) The term “adulterated” shall apply to any carcass, part thereof, meat or meat food product under one or more of the following circumstances:

(1) if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance, such article shall not be considered adulterated under this clause…..

(3) if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or is for any other reason unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food;

(4) if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health:…

Just think of chicken poop or pig feces being on your chicken breast or in your sausage patty, and what in those adjectives listed above, such as putrid and filthy, or the verbs such as rendered injurious and injurious to health, are not describing what we have going on in over 25% of chicken parts?

If FSIS does not gather up a crew of experts, including the industry and consumer groups, and draw up some proposed rules and regs for publishing in the Federal Register, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), and her cronies along with Congressman Bishop will create some law behind closed doors that will create havoc for the animal agriculture industry and create more work for the inspectors’ union, guaranteeing job security for them.

And that just might be what will be the driving force behind getting salmonella pathogenic species declared adulterants -- jobs.

Union jobs security dressed up like public health protection.

 

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