In recent years, we have made tremendous strides reducing the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in our meat supply. Perhaps emboldened by the success of recent policy initiatives directed towards the reduction of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STECs), and industry’s response, FSIS is now shifting its sights to Salmonella control.

FSIS estimates that, each year, food contaminated with Salmonella causes approximately 1.3 million illnesses and 400 to 500 deaths. Although only a small fraction of these illnesses are caused by the consumption of undercooked beef, poultry and pork, FSIS has nevertheless publicly committed to reducing these numbers to the greatest extent possible.

As a result, expect to see increased agency attention devoted toward new policy initiatives and regulatory enforcement activities designed to reduce Salmonella. To achieve its goals, FSIS has announced a number of separate initiatives.

On the beef side, FSIS intends to begin sampling for Salmonella every time it samples for STECsin ground beef and ground beef sources. In other words, the numbers of samples FSIS intends to collect for Salmonella will increase dramatically. Once the agency has collected enough data about the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef, the agency plans to develop “a new standard to encourage ground beef processors to strengthen their Salmonella controls, resulting in a safer products a fewer foodborne illnesses.” FSIS will also determine whether any of those samples which test positive contain antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella, and whether any such findings can or should trigger additional regulatory enforcement activities.

With respect to poultry, FSIS is conducting additional sampling for Salmonella, closely assessing in-plant conditions that lead to Salmonella problems and developing more robust Salmonella performance standards. Through these efforts, FSIS hopes to achieve a reduction of approximately 4,286 Salmonella illnesses per year.

According to FSIS, many Salmonella illnesses are also attributable to pork products. As a result, the agency will be conducting new baseline sampling and developing sanitary dressing standards in hog establishments. Here too, FSIS anticipates that these activities will result in a substantial reduction in the numbers of Salmonella illnesses attributable to pork.

FSIS also recognizes, however, that consumers play a critical role in decreasing illness as well. As a result, the agency is actively “encouraging consumers to take steps to protect themselves from illnesses, including cooking all ground beef to 160 degrees F (poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees F).”

We congratulate the agency for recognizing the importance of consumer education in any food-safety initiative.

With FSIS’ sights now firmly set on Salmonella, expect to see Salmonella control gain increasing importance in FSIS policy and enforcement. In turn, do what you can now to begin preparing for these new initiatives, which are literally only a skip away.