WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture denied a petition seeking to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella as adulterants. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) submitted the petition.

CSPI sought to have the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) declare antibiotic-resistant (ABR) strains of Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella Heidelberg, Salmonella Newport and Salmonella Typhimurium to be adulterants when found in ground meat and raw ground poultry.

"After thoroughly reviewing the available data, FSIS has concluded that the data do not support giving the four strains of ABR Salmonella identified in the petition a different status as an adulterant in raw ground meat and raw ground poultry than Salmonella strains that are susceptible to antibiotics," the agency responded in a letter to CSPI.

FSIS added that more data on the characteristics of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella are needed to determine whether certain strains could qualify as adulterants under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Inspection Act.

CSPI sued USDA in May to force the agency to respond to its petition.

"USDA's failure to act on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in the meat supply ignores vital information about the public health risk posed by these pathogens," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI food safety director. "Despite numerous examples of outbreaks linked to resistant pathogens, USDA leaves consumers vulnerable to illnesses that carry a much greater risk of hard-to-treat infections leading to hospitalization."

USDA denied the petition without prejudice, which means CSPI can submit a revised petition containing additional information to support reclassifying the four strains of Salmonella as adulterants.