WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture has made reducing the occurrence of Salmonella in chicken and turkey a priority and launched several initiatives aimed at collecting information and data that will support future actions taken to meet the national target of a 25% reduction in Salmonella infections. However, some consumer advocacy groups believe the agency’s strategy should include declaring certain “outbreak serotypes” of the pathogen to be adulterants in all meat and poultry.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Marler Clark LLP, a law firm that specializes in litigating foodborne illnesses complaints, petitioned the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of USDA on the matter. Both petitions request that FSIS declare outbreak serotypes as adulterants in meat and poultry products. The serotypes in question include:

Salmonella Agona, Anatum, Berta, Blockely, Braenderup, Derby, Dublin, Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, I 4,[5],12:i:-, Infantis, Javiana, Litchfield, Mbandaka, Mississippi, Montevideo, Muenchen, Newport, Oranienburg, Panama, Poona, Reading, Saintpaul, Sandiego, Schwarzengrund, Senftenberg, Stanley, Thompson, Typhi, and Typhimurium.

“One of the most common Salmonella strains in poultry products, Salmonella Kentucky, rarely causes illness in consumers, while other strains, such as Enteritidis and Heidelberg are far more likely to cause illness and send consumers to the hospital,” CSPI said. “Other strains, like Typhimurium and Infantis, are concerning because they are more likely to resist treatment with antibiotics.”

“Each of these Outbreak Serotypes has a demonstrable history associated with either an illness outbreak or a product recall and is proven to be injurious to human health,” the Marler Clark petition said. “Thus, Petitioners believe the above-listed serotypes constitute an imminent threat to public health necessitating prompt agency action. We request that FSIS take this action through interpretive rulemaking on all thirty-one Outbreak Serotypes jointly or on each serotype individually (if FSIS concludes that one or more serotypes do not merit such treatment).”

CSPI also asked the agency to require slaughterhouses to adopt preventative measures such as vaccinations of live poultry and on-farm monitoring for the presence of dangerous bacteria.

Proponents of declaring certain Salmonella serotypes as adulterants argue that a rule will encourage increased monitoring efforts and ensure public health and safety. They point to the Shiga toxin-producing types of E. coli. In 1994, following a significant outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, FSIS declared that strain as an adulterant. And in 2012, the agency officially declared six additional serotypes as adulterants in meat and poultry.

“The effect of these declarations is unmistakable,” according to Marler Clark. “Although it took time to implement the necessary changes and methodology ensuring compliance with FSIS’s new declaration, these heightened standards caused a predictable initial spike in reporting numbers, followed by a sharp decline in both recall events and reported illnesses as, presumably, the industry reacted positively to the heightened safety requirements.”

In response to the petition, FSIS said the agency is “actively evaluating” the issues raised, and comments submitted by the petitioners.

“Secretary Vilsack and the USDA Office of Food Safety have recently announced USDA’s plans to explore possible new approaches for addressing Salmonella in poultry,” the agency said. “FSIS will consider the issues raised in the two petitions as we consider these new approaches.

“In addition, FSIS has asked the National Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Criteria of Foods (NACMCF) to explore ways in which the agency could address Salmonella serotypes more frequently associated with human illness, strain characteristics (e.g., virulence factors), and the quantity of Salmonella on raw poultry products, when evaluating industry’s control of Salmonella.”