Despite decades of progress in reducing Salmonella prevalence in poultry products, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has failed to see those reductions translate into fewer illnesses among consumers.
Led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Healthy People initiative has identified science-based objectives with targets to monitor progress in reductions of Salmonella infections from all sources for every decade since 1980. The 2010 and 2020 Healthy People goals were not met, although there were reductions in prevalence. For example, during the five-year period from 2017 through 2021, the number of chicken samples in which FSIS detected Salmonella decreased by more than 50%; however, the estimated rate of human Salmonella infections from all sources has remained consistent over the last two decades, with an estimated 1.35 million infections prevalent in the U.S. each year.
The most recent report from the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration estimates that more than 23% of foodborne Salmonella illnesses are attributable to poultry consumption with almost 17% from chicken and more than 6% from turkey. The Healthy People 2030 target is set to reduce Salmonella infections to a national case rate of no more than 11.5 per 100,000 consumers per year. To reach the 2030 target, illnesses attributable to poultry must be reduced by 25%, or more than twice the reductions seen in in either of the previous two decades (roughly 6% and 11%, respectively).
To accomplish this ambitious goal, FSIS is implementing a new strategic framework that will be supported by an expansive risk assessment and more effective, measurable controls. Additional supporting data gathered includes identifying the types of microbiological criteria that would better result in preventing infections, identifying various serotypes involved in contaminations and infections, using quantitative testing methods instead of presence/absence methods, and expanding a sampling program to provide better risk assessment and control measures.
Proposed Framework Components
FSIS has also released a Proposed Regulatory Framework made up of three components that is now open for public comment. The three components of the new regulatory framework provide a comprehensive farm-to-fork approach based on the knowledge that Salmonella enters the food chain in or on the live bird, allowing contamination to expand downstream to consumers from there.
Component 1: Require incoming flocks to be tested for Salmonella before entering an establishment
FSIS is considering requiring establishments to characterize Salmonella as a hazard reasonably likely to occur at receiving and that incoming flocks be tested for Salmonella before entering an establishment. Under this approach, the flock would have to meet a predetermined target for Salmonella at receiving, which may be industry-wide or establishment-specific, and the establishment must demonstrate that its subsequent process will be effective in reducing Salmonella so that the product will meet the final product standard.
The goal of this component is to incentivize the use of pre-harvest interventions that reduce the level of incoming Salmonella contamination or mitigate the risk of a particular serotype entering the establishment.
Component 2: Enhance process control monitoring and FSIS verification
To ensure that poultry slaughter establishments are effectively controlling Salmonella throughout their operations, FSIS may propose to modify its current regulations to prescribe enhanced establishment monitoring procedures, including revised locations for multipoint sampling and use of a statistical approach to process control.
FSIS may modify the existing requirements for indicator organism testing for process control and establish additional parameters to better define the required analysis of the data. As part of the proposal, establishments may be required to test for indicator organisms (e.g., aerobic plate count [APC], Enterobacteriaceae). FSIS would consider production volume when determining the frequency that establishments must collect samples.