(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the June/July 2019 issue.)
The CDC estimates Salmonella causes 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths annually. Food is accountable for approximately 1 million of these illnesses. Furthermore, research published by the agency last year found that Salmonella in chicken was among the leading causes of outbreak-related illnesses and hospitalizations between 2009 and 2015.
For decades Salmonella infections have remained constant, triggering economical damage and resulting in over $3.5 billion annually in medical costs.
Salmonella is certainly not an exclusive domestic meat issue; rather it’s a global one that holds no differentiation to foods and drinks it can theoretically contaminate. Here are just a few recent instances of Salmonella recalls:
- In January 2018, French dairy group Lactalis widened a product recall to cover all baby milk manufactured by its factory at the center of a Salmonella contamination that led to dozens of babies falling ill. Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy group, had to recall more than 12 million tins of baby milk around the world due to the outbreak.
- BRF Brazil recalled almost 500 metric tons of fresh chicken products in February 2019 as a precautionary measure of Salmonella contamination. Products were destined to the Brazilian commerce, including 299.6 metric tons for the international markets.
- In March 2019, Hometown Food Co. in the U.S. initiated a voluntary retail-level recall for its Pillsbury Unbleached All-Purpose after a random inspection revealed traces of Salmonella. Prior to this, in January, General Mills conducted a voluntary national recall of its Gold Medal Unbleached Flour due to the potential presence of Salmonella, which was discovered during sampling.
- Also in March, Butterball LLC recalled over 78,000 pounds of raw ground turkey products that could have been contaminated with Salmonella Schwarzengrund. Such recalls as Butterball’s are concerning because some customers may have stored the ground turkey into their freezers.
- Last year also saw a nationwide recall in the U.S. of approximately 12 million pounds of various raw, non-intact beef products from JBS Tolleson due to Salmonella Newport.
In addition, various products containing kratom powder that were manufactured, processed, and packed by Triangle Pharmanaturals, were recalled after testing revealed Salmonella. Since gaining newly found regulatory muscle mass from the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA rolled out its new regulatory jackhammer and ordered a federal mandatory recall of kratom in April 2018. USDA may very well be covetous, while private industry is finally timorous.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently started to post on its website revealing data on Salmonella contamination involving poultry products. Poultry and meat plants are sorted by FSIS into three distinct categories according to their Salmonella test results as per FSIS’ pathogen reduction performance standards. The best performing plants are placed in category 1, which are sampled by FSIS less often than those establishments placed into categories 2 and 3. Overall, the new FSIS data on Salmonella contamination isn’t very encouraging. Such noncompliance makes even the most passive layperson doubt FSIS’ raw poultry regulatory guidelines that are intended to protect consumers from Salmonella.
Ensuring that the food products FSIS regulates are safe to eat, is no easy task. But are FSIS regulations involving raw/frozen poultry/beef and Salmonella contained within the FSIS Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 selectively flawed? Click FSIS Strategic Plan 2017-2021 and view for yourself. Or perhaps you’ve had enough to digest for one sitting.
Sayer, who has extensive experience in the meat and poultry industry, is a SAI Global auditor/instructor. Reach him at [email protected].