Meat/Poultry Inspection

CFA Urges USDA to Protect Consumers from Salmonella in Meat and Poultry

Report Examines Legal Authority and Cost-Effective Options to Reduce Illness

Washington, D.C. — The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) today released an in-depth analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) regulation of Salmonella in raw meat and poultry. The report examines the legal and scientific foundations for USDA policy on Salmonella, and the consequences of that policy for public health. It recommends that USDA exercise its authority under the law to set and enforce more rigorous standards to protect consumers from Salmonella contamination in meat and poultry.

Illnesses from Salmonella in the U.S. have remained more or less constant during the past decade. By contrast, rates of salmonellosis in the European Union have declined dramatically during the same period, to less than half what they once were, thanks in large part to a farm-to-fork Salmonella control initiative launched in 2003. The situation in the U.S. seems to have gotten even worse in the past few months, with a rash of Salmonella outbreaks linked to meat and poultry causing hundreds of confirmed illnesses. “USDA needs to develop more rigorous standards for Salmonella, and to establish more effective enforcement,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of the Food Policy Institute at CFA, “this report presents a straightforward roadmap for how to do so.”

CFA’s report, titled Taking Salmonella Seriously: Policies to Protect Public Health under Current Law, explains why the law authorizes federal regulators to treat Salmonella as an adulterant in raw meat and poultry. USDA has claimed that the law restricts how it can enforce limits on Salmonella contamination in meat and poultry. According to CFA’s analysis, however, this legal interpretation relies on outdated precedent—particularly the D.C. Circuit court’s 1974 decision in American Public Health Association v. Butz, which later decisions have cited for the proposition that “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 CFA report details significant scientific advances in detecting Salmonella, preventing contamination in food and food animals, understanding the severity of Salmonella infections, and documenting the resilience of Salmonella to common cleaning and cooking practices, which support modernizing consumer protections against the bacteria. Reforms to reduce Salmonella in raw meat and poultry are not only legally authorized, but also economically feasible, according to the report, which explores more rigorous Salmonella control programs in foreign countries, and the barriers to adopting similar reforms in the U.S.

The report urges USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to announce an interpretive rule under which the agency will consider raw meat and poultry “adulterated” if it is contaminated with Salmonella. The report describes the pros and cons associated with five policy options for implementing such a rule, namely:

  1. A zero tolerance approach to all Salmonella.
  2. Prohibiting particular Salmonella serotypes associated with human illness on raw foods.
  3. Prohibiting Salmonella strains associated with an ongoing outbreak.
  4. Prohibiting Salmonella resistant to certain medically important antibiotics.
  5. Prohibiting high loads of Salmonella

“Any of these policies would protect public health better than the status quo,” said Gremillion.

The report is available here.

A summary of the report is available here.

Contact: Thomas Gremillion, 202-939-1010