The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that it will be declaring Salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products.
“Food safety is at the heart of everything FSIS does,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “That mission will guide us as this important first step launches a broader initiative to reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry in the U.S.”
“Today’s announcement is an important moment in U.S. food safety because we are declaring Salmonella an adulterant in a raw poultry product,” said Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy under secretary for food safety. “This is just the beginning of our efforts to improve public health.”
By declaring Salmonella an adulterant in these products, FSIS will be able to ensure that highly contaminated products that could make people sick are not sold to consumers. Since 1998, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been associated with up to 14 outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses. Products in this category are found in the freezer section and include some chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kiev products. These products appear cooked, but they are heat-treated only to set the batter or breading and the product contains raw poultry. Continual efforts to improve the product labeling have not been effective at reducing consumer illnesses.
Breaded and stuffed raw chicken products will be considered adulterated when they exceed a very low level of Salmonella contamination and would be subject to regulatory action. FSIS will be proposing to set the limit at 1 colony forming unit (CFU) of Salmonella per gram for these products, a level that the agency believes will significantly reduce the risk of illness from consuming these products. The agency will also seek comment on whether a different standard for adulteration—such as zero tolerance or one based on specific serotypes—would be more appropriate.
The notice is expected to publish in the Federal Register in the fall and FSIS will be seeking public comments that address what the standard should be as well as to inform a final implementation plan, including a verification testing program. Once published, the notice will be posted in FSIS’ Federal Register & Rulemaking page for review and comment. When the proposal is finalized, FSIS will announce its final implementation plans and the date it will begin routine testing for Salmonella in these products.
This action is part of FSIS’ broader efforts to reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry. In October 2021, USDA announced it was reevaluating its strategy for controlling Salmonella in poultry, including whether Salmonella should be considered an adulterant in specific raw poultry products. Since launching this effort, USDA has been focusing on gathering information by meeting with stakeholders to hear their ideas, asking for recommendations from food safety experts, and soliciting ideas for pilot projects from industry to test drive different control strategies in poultry establishments. USDA plans to present a proposed framework for a new comprehensive strategy to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributable to poultry in October and convene a public meeting to discuss it in November.