Latest Food Safety Goals That Will Help Reduce Salmonella InfectionsBlog
The Healthy People 2030 is a science-based government initiative to improve the health and well-being of the United States population. While there are many objectives (358 in fact!) targeted by Healthy People 2030, a long-standing collective goal for food safety is to reduce foodborne illness overall by improving food safety-related behaviors and practices. Salmonella bacteria are a leading cause of foodborne illness, and it is estimated that over 20 percent of foodborne salmonellosis is attributed to poultry products. While progress has been made, in that the occurrence of Salmonella in raw poultry products has substantially been lowered, the incidence of human illness associated with the consumption of poultry products has not decreased.
Why Is This?
There are two possible hypotheses as to why this is the case. One is about the virulence of Salmonella, and the other is about the quantity of Salmonella. For the former, the idea is that perhaps some Salmonella (i.e, specific serotypes) associated with poultry are more virulent to humans than others. If these highly virulent serotypes are more likely to cause foodborne illness in humans, then the incidence of disease may not decrease while Salmonella prevalence has decreased in raw poultry products. The other reason could be that the amount or quantity of Salmonella in raw poultry products is higher, so the standard approach for testing for presence/absence would not capture the levels of Salmonella. New test methods are necessary to tackle these two hypotheses and generate supporting evidence.
What Is Happening?
In 2021, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) charged with National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) to address an overarching question targeted specifically Salmonella: What types of microbiological criteria (e.g., Salmonella performance standards) might FSIS use to encourage reductions in Salmonella in poultry products so that they are more effective in preventing human Salmonella infections associated with these products? The NACMCF subcommittee addressed the questions in their final report, for which the public comment has now closed.
Then, on August 1, 2022, as a next step in their effort to more broadly reduce illnesses associated with poultry, the agency took additional action by declaring Salmonella as an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products. FSIS proposed setting the limit at 1 CFU of Salmonella per gram in these products. The rule has yet to be finalized, so implementation plans for routine testing have not yet started.
In October 2022, FSIS released a proposed regulatory framework for a new strategy to control Salmonella contamination in poultry products by controlling for Salmonella risk rather than the Salmonella as a hazard. Dr. Craig Hedberg, from the University of Minnesota, recognized that the proposed framework “is an important step towards moving away from hazard-based regulation toward risk-based regulation. Focusing on levels of Salmonella and highly virulent strains of Salmonella rather than just the presence or absence of Salmonella should reduce the number of illnesses associated with poultry.”
What Does This Mean?
There will be more focus on determining levels of Salmonella in during pre-harvest and post-harvest poultry production as well as identifying serotypes as related to public health concern. It will be a priority for comminuted poultry products, specifically breaded stuffed raw chicken products to identify Salmonella levels and predominant serotypes.
Quantitative PCR methods have recently been developed and validated to quantify the levels of Salmonella; these can replace the more traditional and cumbersome MPN (most probable number) methods. These new methods offer advantages of shortened time to result, which allow more timely action for poultry processors. In addition, commercial and academic laboratories are researching and developing methods based on various technologies (e.g., digital droplet PCR, next-generation sequencing, and CRISPR serotyping) that offer high sensitivity and specificity to tackle these new questions put forth by the regulators.
The Mérieux NutriSciences team will be exhibiting at the upcoming International Production & Processing Expo (January 26-26, 2023) and are available to answer Salmonella testing questions or needs you may have. Be sure to schedule a meeting with us in advance!
By Wendy McMahon and Sarita Raengpradub Wheeler
O’Bryan, C.A., S.C. Ricke, and J.A. Marcy. 2021. Public health impact of Salmonella spp. on raw poultry: Current concepts and future prospects in the United States. Food Control. 132: Article 108539