Reports: Govt Rules Need More Teeth to Prevent Salmonella Outbreaks

Thursday, 19 Dec 2013 01:43 PM

By Courtney Coren

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The lack of oversight of poultry plants by the Department of Agriculture has lead to the recent outbreaks of salmonella, according to reports by two groups.

One study by the Pew Charitable Trusts also said the government should have more power to issue recalls of contaminated meat and said the outbreaks were a sign of a "new urgency" for the Agriculture Department to do more to prevent future outbreaks, The Washington Post reported.

Consumer Reports found that potentially harmful bacteria in store-bought chicken is more common than most would assume. The magazine purchased more than 300 raw chicken breasts from grocery stores around the country that its research team then tested, and found that almost all contained potentially harmful bacteria, including the more expensive organic brands.

While Consumer Reports said that it is unrealistic to expect that meat won't have any bacteria, and it is the reason why chicken should be properly cooked, what's worrisome is that one strain of bacteria found was resistant to at least three of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics.

Under the current rules, the federal government considers it unacceptable if 7.5 percent of a plant's chickens have salmonella, but this does not apply to individual chicken parts, such as legs and breasts.

Pew began its study after it was found that Foster Farms, the California-based poultry company, was responsible for two salmonella outbreaks. The report criticizes the Agriculture Department's Food Safety Inspection Service for its response to the outbreaks — primarily that it never issued a recall or asked Foster Farms to not ship the potentially contaminated chicken.

The FSIS responded to the reports, saying they "confirm the need for measures already underway at FSIS to prevent food-borne illness" by implementing new inspection rules and reducing levels of salmonella bacteria.

More than 500 people were infected with salmonella across several states in one outbreak starting in June 2012 to April 2013, and a second which began in March 2013. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that illness caused by salmonella is usually undiagnosed, so the numbers could be much higher.


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