WASHINGTON – Two members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting the US Dept. of Agriculture publicly identify beef plants that are linked to a current outbreak of Salmonella.
US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and US Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called for more transparency of the US Dept. of Agriculture’s microbiological testing data that it collects at slaughter and processing facilities.
The legislators cited 2019 Salmonella reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that showed people from 10 states were sickened and one person was killed due to Salmonella. Earlier this week, Central Valley Meat Co. Inc. recalled about 34,000 lbs. of ground beef suspected of being contaminated with Salmonella Dublin.
“Greater transparency can help to bridge this regulatory gap and facilitate appropriate responses to the spread of dangerous pathogens,” Gillibrand and DeLauro wrote. “Data on samples collected by FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service), generated using whole genome sequencing (WGS) technology, would allow companies, government researchers and members of the scientific community to identify links between pathogenic strains found in samples from FSIS-regulated establishments, and those found in samples from patients with confirmed cases of foodborne illness. Those links provide actionable information for companies to reduce food safety risk.”
Both representatives later detailed why they disagreed with USDA’s reasons to not release data to the public and other government officials.
“FSIS officials have suggested that they have not disclosed this genetic data because doing so could cause public confusion or require public health authorities to focus their attention on misleading claims,” the legislators stated. “We are not convinced that any such ill effects would outweigh the benefits of giving industry relevant, accurate, and timely information about contamination in food processing facilities, and creating market-based incentives for better food safety control.”
Near the end of their letter, Gillibrand and DeLauro urged Perdue and the USDA to start sharing more information with the public and regulators.
Both requested answers to the following questions by Dec. 13:
- For each sample collected by FSIS that has tested positive for the outbreak strain associated with the ongoing multistate outbreak of Salmonella Dublin infections linked to ground beef, what product was sampled, when, and at which establishment?
- For each sample collected by FSIS that has tested positive for the outbreak strain, when and how did FSIS notify the establishment from which the positive sample was collected? If no notification has been given, why?
- If the outbreak strain has been found in samples from more than one establishment, what is the root cause or common source of the contamination? If still not known, how is FSIS investigating to find the root cause or common source?
- How many samples collected from turkey slaughter and processing establishments have tested positive for the outbreak strain associated with the multistate outbreak of antibiotic resistant Salmonella Infantis infections linked to raw chicken products? When, where, and from what products were these samples taken? Has FSIS notified the establishments producing these products? If not, why not? What is the root cause of this contamination, or if still not known, what is FSIS doing to find the root cause?