WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Tuesday released a proposed determination to declare salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products when they exceed a very low level of salmonella contamination.
This announcement is a significant first step that builds on FSIS’ proposed regulatory framework to reduce salmonella infections linked to poultry products, released in October 2022.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that salmonella bacteria cause approximately 1.35 million human infections and 26,500 hospitalizations in the United States every year. Of those infections, over 23% are attributed to poultry consumption. Foodborne illness can have a devastating impact, both personally and financially, on people’s lives, the cost of which reverberates through the economy. Data from USDA’s Economic Research Service show the total cost for foodborne salmonella infections in the United States is a staggering $4.1 billion annually and the cost for the loss of productivity to the economy is $88 million.
These are real costs to real people that can and should be prevented.
“USDA is taking science-based, decisive action to drive down salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”
Under this proposal, FSIS would consider any breaded stuffed raw chicken products that include a chicken component that tested positive for salmonella at 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram prior to stuffing and breading to be adulterated. FSIS is also proposing to 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 raw chicken products are pre-browned and may appear cooked, but the chicken is raw. These products are stuffed with ingredients, such as a raw vegetable, 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 may be difficult for a consumer to determine an accurate internal temperature of these products because they contain multiple ingredients that may cook at different rates.
In proposing to declare salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products, FSIS based its decision on several factors, including 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.
The labeling of these products has undergone significant changes over time to better inform consumers that they are raw and to provide instructions on how to prepare them safely. Despite these efforts to improve labeling, these products continue to be associated with salmonella illness outbreaks. Additionally, data from outbreaks and FSIS’ consumer research show that some people may not realize these products contain raw chicken because the outside may appear browned and cooked, which leads them to believe that the product is safe to eat as is or not cook the product to a safe internal temperature.
FSIS is seeking public comments on the proposed determination and the proposed verification sampling program.
Comments on the proposed determination and verification procedures must be received within 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Comments may be submitted online via the federal eRulemaking portal, available at www.regulations.gov; by mail sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3758, Washington, DC 20250-3700, or by hand or courier delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Jamie L. Whitten Building, Room 350-E, Washington, DC 20250-3700. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2022-0013.