War Of Attrition
By Andy Hanacek,
executive editor
The battle to reduce Salmonella rages on, with improved technology, education, and awareness leading the charge
Although it may be a great war that food-safety specialists are fighting, it has been the smaller battles in the fight to prevent Salmonella that scientists and regulatory associations are winning that continues to build momentum for the meat and poultry industries.
According to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef (see accompanying chart) has gone done every year since 1998, when regular testing began. In all classes of meat and poultry products, Salmonella rates decreased below the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HAACP) baseline prevalence estimates, according to FSIS data presented by the American Meat Institute. Only 3.8 percent of random samples collected and analyzed in 2003 tested positive for Salmonella, compared with 4.29 percent the previous year and 5.03 percent in 2001.
Salmonella prevention has ridden a wave of momentum since the first year of testing in 1998, and many factors have contributed to the decline in Salmonella in meat and poultry products, says Randall Huffman, vice president, scientific affairs for AMI Foundation.
“It’s a combination of multiple efforts, multiple hurdles in the process,” Huffman explains. “That would include new technologies that are antimicrobial in nature — and those might be either process changes or antimicrobial agents that may be used, for instance, in brine chiller water. The combination of those types of technologies along with better awareness and education of industry best practices has made a difference.”
Education and new technology have spurred on the figurative troops against Salmonella of late. Although reducing the prevalence of Salmonella in preharvest, live birds always has been a focus of the industry, it has gathered steam as an area where great strides could be made. In fact, FSIS hosted a public meeting on “Advances in Pre-Harvest Reduction of Salmonella in Poultry” in August in Athens, GA.
“The use of probiotics or direct-fed microbials, has been shown to reduce the carriage of Salmonella in birds,” Huffman explains. “[But] FDA has so far not rendered a decision on a petition that was filed many years ago regarding the use of these defined probiotic cultures. And the industry is quite frustrated with that.”
However, that speed of approval should be nothing new to the industry. Although the process of improving the technology and methods of reducing Salmonella in meat and poultry products is a very deliberate process, the industry is showing a decline year after year.
“It’s important to recognize that the illnesses associated with Salmonella also are decreasing,” he explains. “Of course, we’d like to see it decrease at a greater rate, but Salmonella illnesses are caused by a variety of foods, not just poultry or meat products.”
As education, technology and awareness continue to develop and grow, momentum will build, which should lead to greater decreases in the prevalence of Salmonella, across the board. NP