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USDA Proposes Declaring Salmonella an Adulterant

April 27, 2023
Breaded stuffed raw chicken entrees are the first of what should be many chicken products targeted.

As hinted at for more than a year, USDA on April 25 released a proposed determination to declare salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products. It’s an important first step in an all-out war on the pathogen the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has promised.

To those who understand the nuance, declaring salmonella an adulterant gives the agency the power to prohibit contaminated products from entering the market and to remove them if necessary, powers the agency did not have in the past.

And while this first declaration only involves breaded and stuffed raw chicken entrees (e.g., chicken Kiev), it paves the way for more regulation to remove all chicken products that have tested positive, even when they have a very low level of contamination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates salmonella bacteria cause approximately 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year, including some deaths. Poultry consumption is the leading cause, accounting for more than 23% of the cases.

“Today’s proposal represents the first step in a broader effort to control salmonella contamination in all poultry products, as well as a continued commitment to protecting American consumers from foodborne illness,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Under this proposal, FSIS would consider any breaded stuffed raw chicken products that tested positive for Salmonella at 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram prior to stuffing and breading to be adulterated. FSIS will carry out verification procedures, including sampling and testing of the chicken component of breaded stuffed raw chicken products prior to stuffing and breading, to ensure producing establishments control salmonella in these products.

If the chicken component in these products does not meet this standard, the product lot represented by the sampled component would not be permitted to be used to produce the final breaded stuffed raw chicken products. The chicken component represented by the sampled lot would need to be diverted to a use other than breaded stuffed raw chicken products.

Breaded stuffed chicken entrees are being singled out because they are pre-browned and may appear cooked, but the chicken is raw. These products are stuffed with ingredients such as vegetables, butter, cheese or meat such as ham. The products are typically cooked by consumers from a frozen state, which increases the risk of the product not reaching the internal temperature needed to destroy salmonella. In addition, it’s difficult for a consumer to determine the internal temperature of these products because they contain multiple ingredients that may cook at different rates.

The announcement noted that since 1998, FSIS and its public health partners have investigated 14 salmonella outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses associated with these products. The most recent outbreak was in 2021 and resulted in illnesses across 11 states.

FSIS is seeking public comments on the proposed determination and the proposed verification sampling program. Comments must be received within 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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