USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recently launched a new comprehensive focus on reducing Salmonella illnesses caused by poultry products. “Reducing Salmonella infections attributable to poultry is one of the department’s top priorities,” says Sandra Eskin, USDA deputy under-secretary, 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 will be seeking stakeholder feedback on specific Salmonella control and measurement strategies that will support achieving or lowering the targeted reduction in consumer illnesses.
The announcement further emphasizes the fact that the effort will leverage USDA’s strong research capabilities and strengthen FSIS’s partnership with the Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area to address data gaps and develop new laboratory methods to guide future Salmonella policy.
A key component in the new FSIS approach is to consider the use of pre-harvest controls to reduce Salmonella contamination in live birds coming into the plant. For years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed a large portion of foodborne illnesses to Salmonella associated with chickens, turkeys, and eggs. FSIS is looking to reduce these illnesses by working with poultry companies on advancing initiatives such as pilot projects, pre-harvest controls, and new quantitative measures of Salmonella loads.
While poultry producers, processors, and consumers all play an important role in preventing foodborne illnesses, Salmonella in poultry originates pre-harvest and can proliferate at farms that do not have a comprehensive Salmonella control strategy. This is where poultry producers and live operations managers play a crucial role. One way to describe effective Salmonella controls pre-harvest is to take a “360-degree” approach.
A holistic approach to preventing Salmonella pre-harvest can be divided into five major components:
- Vaccines to build Salmonella immunity and offer protection throughout the life cycle, including the progeny.
- Intestinal integrity programs to support bird immunity and reduce opportunities for Salmonella to colonize.
- Nutritional and functional feed supplements to help mitigate Salmonella colonization while improving bird performance.
- Integrated pest management (IPM) programs to reduce external Salmonella vectors through the use of approved insecticides and rodenticides.
- Farm and poultry house best management practices to reduce Salmonella proliferation through effective management of water, bedding material, biosecurity, and cleaning practices.
1. Salmonella Vaccine Programs
A vaccination program is the first step in building bird immunity and helping to prevent Salmonella colonization. When Salmonella is an issue at the plant, it all starts with colonization of the pathogen within birds at the farm. Vaccines are strategically used early in the process to address the “root cause” of the problem. Comprehensive Salmonella vaccination programs in breeders and meat birds, consistently applied over time, have been successfully used in broilers and turkeys.
There are two groups of vaccines—inactivated and live—and each plays a role in poultry health and pathogen reduction. Also, when Salmonella vaccines decrease pathogen loads in live birds coming into the slaughterhouse, the in-plant interventions have a lower burden of decreasing quantitative loads and have an improved likelihood of effectiveness.
2. Intestinal Strength and Integrity Programs
Bird health and food safety go hand in hand, and it’s important for producers to consider products that promote intestinal integrity by reducing coccidiosis, necrotic enteritis, and other causes of damage to intestinal strength. The intestinal wall acts as a physical barrier to prevent the colonization of harmful bacteria or otherwise harmful pathogens that could lead to food safety concerns down the line.
An effective intestinal integrity program includes careful planning with ionophores and non-antibiotic intestinal integrity products as well as management strategies. When issues arise, producers can evaluate and adjust their disease prevention program to maintain intestinal integrity.