Meat/Poultry Inspection

Regulatory Vacuum to Blame for Growing Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Ground Beef

No Update to Standards Since 1996, Enforcement Discontinued

Washington, D.C. — Recent reports from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal a growing list of outbreak victims connected to JBS Tolleson, Inc.’s Oct. 4 recall of nearly 7 million pounds of ground beef for suspected Salmonella contamination. According to CDC, the number of illnesses tied to the Salmonella Newport strain have doubled since the initial report on the outbreak, with 120 people confirmed sick in 22 states, 33 of whom have been hospitalized.

“Unfortunately, without a change in federal inspection policy, we can expect more of these outbreaks,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of the Food Policy Institute at CFA. “The standards for controlling Salmonella contamination in ground beef are woefully outdated.”

In 1996, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) began requiring ground beef processors like JBS to meet Salmonella performance standards. The companies did not have to eliminate Salmonella from their products, but no more than 7.5% of samples taken by the agency would be allowed to test positive. This limit was based on average industry performance in controlling Salmonella during the years leading up to 1996. At the time it introduced the standard, FSIS claimed the system would spur continuous improvement because the agency would regularly conduct new baseline studies, and ratchet the standards downward as industry developed new technologies and best practices for reducing Salmonella. Twenty years later, many companies have figured out how to virtually eliminate Salmonella from ground beef. For the rest of the industry, however, FSIS has yet to develop a new standard, and the agency has stopped verification testing to enforce compliance with the existing standards.

“Beef processors are essentially operating on the honor system when it comes to Salmonella,” said Gremillion. “Consumers deserve better.”

Contact: Thomas Gremillion, 202-939-1010