On May 12, PBS’ FRONTLINE aired an episode entitled “The Trouble With Chicken,” which investigated the spread of dangerous pathogens in meat, focusing in on the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms.
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Much discussion and debate followed the airing, including the fact that Salmonella (among the most frequent causes of foodborne illness) is not officially considered an adulterant and how regulators are failing to own up and prevent the spread of this pathogen.
As the report mentions, this stems back to a 1974 court case, American Public Health Association v. Butz, in which it was determined that the responsibility for meat safety should go to those doing the cooking, namely “housewives.”
“American housewives and cooks normally are not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in salmonellosis,” the ruling read. There have since been attempts to have this antiquated way of thinking changed. Most notable was CSPI’s request in 2011 to have antibiotic-resistant Salmonella declared as an adulterant.
The USDA’s FSIS denied the petition three years later.
However, after the airing of the FRONTLINE investigation, more efforts to help keep Americans safe from contaminated products are being initiated. Currently, the USDA will only issue a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered “adulterated.”
But on May 13, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) officially introduced the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act. The act would provide the USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated meat and poultry, regardless of whether the harmful pathogen has been declared an adulterant or not.
“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” says Senator Gillibrand. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens.”
In addition, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) recently reintroduced the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act.
“It’s time to stop treating Salmonella, particularly antibioticresistant Salmonella, as just a natural part of meat and poultry,” says David Plunkett, senior staff attorney, CSPI. “This legislation does away with the outdated notion that it’s okay for food companies to sell us food that’s contaminated with dangerous bacteria.”