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National Chicken Council ‘concerned’ about FSIS decision

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Group says presence of Salmonella has never rendered raw poultry adulterated.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) expressed concern this week about USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) announcement that it was declaring Salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products.

“NCC is concerned about the precedent set by this abrupt shift in longstanding policy, made without supporting data, for a product category that has only been associated with one outbreak since 2015. It has the potential to shutter processing plants, cost jobs, and take safe food and convenient products off shelves,” stated Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for NCC. “We’re equally concerned that this announcement was not science-based or data-driven.”

Going back to the passage of the Poultry Products Inspection Act in 1957, the mere presence of Salmonella has not rendered raw poultry adulterated, Peterson explained.  “We believe FSIS already has the regulatory and public health tools to work with the industry to ensure the continued safety of these products. We’ve been asking the agency for years to collaborate on these efforts, including two petitions for stricter regulations, requests that have gone largely ignored.”

She continued, “There is no silver bullet or one-size-fits all approach to food safety, which is why we employ a multi-stage strategy. The only way to ensure our food is safe 100% of the time is by following science-based procedures when raising and processing chicken, and by handling and cooking it properly at home.”

FSIS said the products like Chicken Cordon Bleu and Chicken Kiev appear cooked but are not, and continual efforts to improve the product labeling have not been effective at reducing consumer illnesses.

NCC said it remains confident the products can be prepared and consumed safely, adding that the industry remains committed to continuing their efforts to further enhance the safety of these products.

When making the announcement, FSIS said breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been associated with up to 14 outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses since 1998. NCC, on the other hand, noted that prior to one 2021 outbreak, the last multistate outbreak of stuffed chicken products was in 2015, “meaning one outbreak in the past seven years.”

“In the 2021 investigation, some consumers reportedly did not cook the stuffed chicken products using a validated process (oven), as described on the product label, to ensure that the product was thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Instead, some consumers reported using a microwave or air fryer.”

As a result of the outbreak, NCC said FSIS sought advice from the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI), which NCC welcomed as a step toward more direct involvement to reinforce efforts for this product class. The NACMPI subcommittee reported several recommendations to FSIS, many of which presented practical steps that could be taken immediately and which NCC supported, and none of which was to declare Salmonella an adulterant in these products.

Additionally, NCC said it has twice petitioned FSIS asking for mandatory and stricter labels for these products, to help consumers better understand the proper cooking procedures. Neither petition has received a response, the group said.

Earlier this month, NCC even wrote to FSIS leadership asking the agency to draw on existing regulatory tools and policies and offered seven specific, rigorous steps that we believe would have an impact on public health.

“We have yet to receive a response to the letter.”

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