– CONTRIBUTED Opinion –

Recent published data has demonstrated there was a reduction in foodborne illness cases in 2020, but can we admit that the beginning of this decade was not much better than the previous two decades when it comes to food safety and foodborne illness prevention?  Reflecting on the federal government’s Healthy People 2010 and 2020 established goals, as a food safety community we have failed to meet the minimum outcomes for more than 20 years.

Healthy People 2030 may be different. Specifically, we have an opportunity to achieve the stated goals regarding Salmonella. This work is urgent, yet the industry and USDA remain slow to modernize poultry Salmonella prevention.

Today’s poultry Salmonella performance standards haven’t been updated since the early 1990’s. You read that correctly — the standards haven’t been updated since your phone was plugged into a wall and had a six-foot-long cord attached to it. But we aim to change that.

In January 2021 Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP), and our initial coalition partners, petitioned the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to modernize poultry inspection performance standards. We are calling for them to be enforceable, risk-based, science-based, and directly linked to public health outcomes. 

It is noteworthy that the coalition expanded to include academia, additional consumer advocacy groups, STOP constituent advocates, former senior regulatory officials, and four of the largest poultry producers in the United States — Butterball LLC, Wayne Farms LLC, Perdue Farms, and Tyson Foods. This partnership called upon USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to support the call to action.  

In October, Secretary Vilsack made an official announcement that a review and update of the Salmonella standards is to be made a priority. Now, with engagement by Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety Sandra Eskin and her team, we are communicating and working to move toward meaningful change.

This work is critical and could deliver a significant reduction in Salmonella illnesses and deaths if those participating are courageous and remain focused on the bottom line of public health.  This is how progress can be achieved.  This is how we accomplish our community’s stated minimum goals. This is how we can collaborate to be effective, accountable, and stop foodborne illness.  

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