The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) promises it “is mobilizing a stronger, and more comprehensive effort to reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry products.”

It says it wants to “move closer to the national target of a 25 percent reduction in Salmonella illnesses.” National targets are included in “Healthy People 2030,” which are data-drive national objectives to improve the health and well-being of Americans over the next decade.

“Far too many consumers become ill every year from poultry contaminated by Salmonella,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We need to be constantly evolving in our efforts to prevent foodborne illness to stay one step ahead of the bad bugs. Today we’re taking action to help prevent Salmonella contamination throughout the poultry supply chain and production system to protect public health.”

The fact is, according to the Healthy People data, the United States is moving backward when it comes to Salmonella-infected poultry. Reducing infections caused by Salmonella is Healthy People goal No. FS-04. The target goal is to reach 11.5 per 100,000 laboratory-diagnosed domestically acquired  Salmonella infections. The most recent data shows 15.3 laboratory-diagnosed, domestically-acquired Salmonella infections per 100,000 people for 2016-18.

The FSIS claims there’s been “consistent reductions in the occurrence of Salmonella in poultry products,” but “acknowledges more than 1 million consumer illnesses due to Salmonella occur annually, and it is estimated that over 23 percent of those illnesses are due to consumption of chicken and turkey.

“Reducing Salmonella infections attributable to poultry is one of the Department’s top priorities,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin, who is leading the initiative. “Time has shown that our current policies are not moving us closer to our public health goal. It’s time to rethink our approach.”

USDA officials intend to seek stakeholder feedback on specific Salmonella control and measurement strategies, including pilot projects, in poultry slaughter and processing establishments. A key component of this approach is encouraging preharvest controls to reduce Salmonella contamination coming into the slaughterhouse. The data generated from these pilots will be used to determine if a different approach could result in a reduction of Salmonella illness in consumers.

The effort will leverage the USDA’s strong research capabilities and strengthen FSIS’ partnership with the Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area to address data gaps and develop new laboratory methods to guide future Salmonella policy, according to a statement from the agency.

Meanwhile, the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria in Foods, an independent federal advisory committee, will be asked to advise on how FSIS can build on the latest science to improve its approach to Salmonella control. Since it is not just the presence or absence of Salmonella, but the quantity of bacteria that can impact the likelihood of illness, FSIS will examine how quantification can be incorporated into this approach. Moreover, with emerging science suggesting that not all Salmonella are equally likely to cause human illness, FSIS will focus on the Salmonella serotypes and the virulence factors that pose the greatest public health risk.

Moving forward, this initiative will require collaboration and ongoing dialogue with stakeholders — industry, consumer groups, and researchers alike. The USDA officials look forward to working closely with stakeholders on informing and implementing key activities of this framework in the very near future.

The USDA’s top officials made no mention of goal FS-06 to prevent an increase in the proportion of macrolide antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter infections, which are also a poultry problem. The current baseline for humans is  2.5 percent resistant to macrolides from 2014-16 for domestically-acquired Campylobacter jejuni infections.

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