A Call for Modernization of USDA’s Poultry Safety Framework

to reduce consistently high burdens of foodborne illness associated with

Salmonella + Campylobacter

Stop Foodborne Illness logo

Petition Filed by Stop Foodborne Illness, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, & Consumer Federation of America

re: Petition to Establish Enforceable Standards

September 2, 2021

Broad Coalition Calls for Modernization of Poultry Food Safety at USDA to Reduce Illnesses

Four Major Poultry Producers Join Consumer Groups, Other Advocates

An unprecedented coalition of consumer groups, illness survivors, poultry industry leaders, academic scientists, and other food safety leaders are seeking a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make a united case for a modernized, science-based regulatory approach to ensure the food safety of poultry products.

Poultry producers Butterball, Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods, and Wayne Farms aligned with four consumer groups—the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, and Stop Foodborne Illness—on key poultry food safety principles and jointly asked for modernized USDA poultry food safety standards that are “objective, risk-based, achievable, enforceable and flexible” enough to adapt to evolving science.

Illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter, which are commonly found on poultry, account for 70 percent of the foodborne illnesses tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These bacteria sicken 3 million people and cost about $6 billion annually. While the federal government set targets for decreased Salmonella and Campylobacter infections as part of its Healthy People 2020 goals, released in 2010, the U.S. failed to meet those targets. Rates of illnesses caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter have remained essentially unchanged.

Besides officials at the companies and the consumer groups, the request to Vilsack was signed by several survivors of foodborne illness, the Association of Food and Drug Officials, Mike Robach, former Cargill food safety quality and regulatory head and former Global Food Safety Initiative Board chairman, and three of the country’s most prominent academic food safety experts, Drs. Craig Hedberg, J. Glenn Morris, and Martin Wiedmann. Former senior USDA food safety officials Michael Taylor, Brian Ronholm, and Jerry Mande also added their signatures.

“While progress on reducing foodborne illness has been at a standstill, scientific knowledge of Salmonella has greatly increased and recognized best practices for Campylobacter and other pathogens has advanced,” the parties wrote to Vilsack. “Science tells us that current performance standards do not effectively target the particular types of Salmonella and the levels of bacteria that pose the greatest risks of illness, and the overall regulatory framework does not adequately harness modern tools for preventing and verifying control of the bacteria that are making people sick.”

“Everyone involved in the production and processing of poultry is invested in producing the safest products possible,” said Mike Robach. “But we all recognize that a modern, risk-based and science-based approach to food safety is necessary both to control pathogens and to promote consumer confidence in the safety of the poultry supply.”

“The science has grown by leaps and bounds since I led USDA’s efforts to create the current poultry standards in the 1990s,” said Michael Taylor, who served as Administrator for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1994 to 1996. “It was the best we could do at the time, but what we know now makes the standards on the books no longer defensible.”

“When the federal government fails to meet its own goals for reducing the incidence of foodborne illness, it’s clear that a new approach is needed,” said CSPI deputy director of regulatory affairs Sarah Sorscher. “Our coalition of consumer groups, academic experts, poultry companies, and survivors of foodborne illness stands ready to support Secretary Vilsack and the USDA team in modernizing our poultry safety system.”

More information about the campaign to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter illnesses due to poultry is available at https://stopfoodborneillness.org/safer-poultry-for-everyone/.

January 21, 2021 | STOP Press Release

Food safety advocates are calling on the United States Department of Agriculture to better protect consumers with new enforceable standards that will reduce, with an aim to ultimately eliminate, Salmonella types of greatest public health concern while continuing to target reductions in Salmonella and Campylobacter overall. The petition also asks the agency to require slaughterhouses to control risks in their supply chains, following best practices for food safety from farm to fork. The groups say the changes are needed in order to achieve public health goals for the coming decade.

In a regulatory petition filed today with USDA, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, and Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP), as well as David Clubb, Amanda Craten, Diana Goodpasture, Mary Graba, and Melissa Lee, individual victims of foodborne illness, are urging the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to target the strains of Salmonella that are of the greatest public health concern, as opposed to regulating Salmonella as a single species. One of the most common Salmonella strains in poultry products, Salmonella Kentucky, rarely causes illness in consumers, while other strains, such as Enteritidis and Heidelberg are far more likely to cause illness and send consumers to the hospital. Other strains, like Typhimurium and Infantis, are concerning because they are more likely to resist treatment with antibiotics.

The groups are also asking the agency to require slaughterhouses to adopt science-based tools to prevent animals from being infected by these bacteria on the farm, including by vaccinating live poultry and monitoring farms for the presence of dangerous bacteria. Such practices have been in effect for years in Europe, where they helped bring about substantial declines in foodborne illness rates. →

“Consumers want to be able to trust that the food they eat is safe,” said Amanda Craten, a petitioner and member of the Board of Directors at STOP, whose 18-month son was seriously injured and permanently disabled as a result of Salmonella-contaminated chicken. “My family wants nothing more than to ensure the USDA is using the best possible tools to keep others from suffering what we have suffered.”

At the start of the last decade, USDA and other federal agencies committed to meeting the Healthy People 2020 goals, which aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of Americans, including by reducing the incidence of foodborne illness caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter. Yet at the close of 2020, progress on both fronts has been dismal: incidence of illness from both types of bacteria has remained as high, if not higher, than it was at the start of the decade.

“We have seen little progress in actually reducing the number of people getting sick from Salmonella or Campylobacter,” said CSPI deputy director of regulatory affairs Sarah Sorscher. “A big reason for that is the USDA has yet to take full advantage of the best current technology and science to control foodborne disease from farm to fork.”

New targets aimed at tackling illness from Salmonella and Campylobacter have been set for Healthy People 2030. These two pathogens together caused over 70 percent of the confirmed foodborne illnesses from bacteria or parasites tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network in the U.S. in 2019. Many of the illnesses are caused by contaminated raw poultry meat, which can sicken unsuspecting consumers after even seemingly minor lapses in at-home food safety practices. ↓

“It’s unacceptable that the USDA is lagging so far behind the science, other food safety regulatory bodies and some members of the poultry industry itself in requiring adequate controls to prevent illnesses from these bacteria,” said Michael Taylor, a former USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator and current board co-chair of STOP.  “At the end of the day, the agency’s priority should be protecting the consumer from preventable illness.”

Other groups have also called for similar changes. In 2019, the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, a committee of scientific experts that advises USDA, recommended that the agency consider pre-harvest controls and the development of approaches that prevent Salmonella strains of public health concern from contaminating raw poultry products.

“A science-based approach is imperative to identifying the measures and controls that will help reduce foodborne illness rates linked to Salmonella and Campylobacter,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports, and former USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety. “We must leverage FSIS’ public health expertise, available science, and industry best practices in order to fully protect consumers.” 

The current petition comes nearly a year after a petition filed by food safety attorney Bill Marler on behalf of consumer groups, which called to ban 31 “outbreak serotypes” of Salmonella in meat and poultry. Two of the signatories to the Marler petition, Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Reports, also signed the petition submitted today, which builds on the Marler petition by laying out a process for USDA to create enforceable standards to target and ultimately eliminate priority Salmonella serotypes, as determined by USDA, while also addressing risks from Campylobacter and requiring slaughterhouses to control food safety risks all the way back to the farm.

“For too long, progress on reducing infections caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter in meat and poultry has stalled,” said Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America. “The science and technology available to reduce foodborne illness has advanced by leaps and bounds, but USDA food safety regulations have not kept up. That needs to change.”

Press Releases from our Partners

“It’s time — it’s past time — for USDA to bring people together and do the work needed to make the FSIS regulatory system and mark of inspection for poultry mean something for public health.” ~ Mike Taylor

STOP Board member, former FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine and a former USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator

Stories

Impacted by Salmonella & Campylobacter

Melissa & Ruby

The utterly helpless feelings of my baby girl painfully, miserably cuddled up on my chest and me, sitting there waiting, knowing there is nothing I can do to help, is an experience I never want to go through again.

David

. . . with the cramping in my stomach, I no longer had the strength to stand. I had a brief pause, and found myself lying on the floor of the bathroom. Covered in vomit and diarrhea, I reached into the pocket of my pants, pulled out my phone and texted “help” to my wife.

Diana

. . . the infection wasn’t going down without a fight. I couldn’t pick my head up off the pillow. I was so sick that I really didn’t think about the future or the past. I was fighting to live and didn’t have time or energy to think about dying.

Mary

Mary was only 16 when she fell ill, and because she had severe cramping and diarrhea she was unable to keep any food in. She soon began to lose significant weight.

Amanda's Video

Amanda Craten, tells why she believes the USDA/FSIS needs stronger, enforceable poultry regulations.

Amanda & Noah

Suddenly, every moment, past and present, I had with my baby was so precious. All I could think about was his sweet smile, . . . and how much I wanted to hold him. There was no time to think about the future . . . I needed to live in that moment, because . . . my son was still with me, still alive.

“Consumers want to be able to trust that the food they eat is safe. My family wants nothing more than to ensure the USDA is using the best possible tools to keep others from suffering what we have suffered.”

~ Amanda Craten, a petitioner and member of the Board of Directors at Stop Foodborne Illness, whose 18-month son was seriously injured and permanently disabled as a result of Salmonella-contaminated chicken

“For too long, progress on reducing infections caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter in meat and poultry has stalled. The science and technology available to reduce foodborne illness has advanced by leaps and bounds, but USDA food safety regulations have not kept up. That needs to change.”

~ Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America

Current & Past

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“A science-based approach is imperative to identifying the measures and controls that will help reduce foodborne illness rates linked to Salmonella and Campylobacter. We must leverage FSIS’ public health expertise, available science, and industry best practices in order to fully protect consumers.”

~ Brian Ronholm, Director of Food Policy for Consumer Reports, and former USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety

“We have seen little progress in actually reducing the number of people getting sick from Salmonella or Campylobacter.”

“A big reason for that is the USDA has yet to take full advantage of the best current technology and science to control foodborne disease from farm to fork.”

~ Sarah Sorcher, CSPI Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs

“It’s unacceptable that the USDA is lagging so far behind the science, other food safety regulatory bodies and some members of the poultry industry itself in requiring adequate controls to prevent illnesses from these bacteria.

At the end of the day, the agency’s priority should be protecting the consumer from preventable illness.”

~ Michael Taylor, a former USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator and current board member of Stop Foodborne Illness
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