Publisher’s platform: Hey Chicken Little, the sky won’t fall on us if Salmonella is found to be adulterant

If Salmonella is considered adulterant – at least the ones that make us sick and kill us – the sky won’t fall on us – history as a guide.

On January 19, 2020, we filed a petition with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), on behalf of Rick Schiller, Steven Romes, the Porter family, Food & Water Watch, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Reports. 20-01-marler-011920 The petition asked FSIS to declare the following “outbreak serotypes” of Salmonella as contaminants per se (adulterants) in meat and poultry products:

Salmonella Agona, Anatum, Berta, Blockely, Braenderup, Derby, Dublin, Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, I 4,[5],12:i:-, Infantis, Javiana, Litchfield, Mbandaka, Mississippi, Montevideo, Muenchen, Newport, Oranienburg, Panama, Poona, Reading, Saintpaul, Sandiego, Schwarzengrund, Senftenberg, Stanley, Thompson, Typhi and Typhimurium.

I said at the time that reducing meat and poultry salmonellosis “requires bold action” beyond that already taken by FSIS. Salmonella is a leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States, causing 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, 130 outbreaks and 420 deaths each year.

Currently, government regulators are somewhat silent on what they intend to do. The poultry industry, as you might expect, views any additional regulations as unnecessary, cumbersome and costly.

It’s not new. Here is a historical piece written by Helena Bottemiller, then at Food Safety News:

It was September 29, 1994. Mike Taylor took to the podium in San Francisco at the American Meat Institute’s annual convention to deliver his first and most important speech as a top food safety official at the U.S. Department. of farming.

“I’m here to talk about change,” began Taylor, who had just become an administrator for the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, as he gazed out at his audience from across the industry. “Change in what the public expects when it comes to food safety, change in how we at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) approach our work, and change in the demands placed on everyone who produces, process and market meat. and poultry for American consumers.

Taylor explained his belief that the meat industry has an opportunity to move beyond food safety policy and find real solutions in the wake of the massive E. coli O157:H7 in the Pacific Northwest.

“You know from your daily experience that improving food security benefits us all.”

And then, Taylor said a few lines the industry might not have wanted to hear:

“In one key respect, our inspection program at FSIS does not do not currently meet public expectations. There is a gap in our system…”

“The fact is, we’re not dealing directly and scientifically enough with the microbial pathogens that can make people sick,” he continued, before setting out some far-reaching public health goals. And then he got very specific.

“To clarify an important legal point, we consider raw ground beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 to be adulterated within the meaning of the Federal Meat Inspection Act,” he added, explaining that he wanted to make the E. USDA coli. “clear” policy.

“We stand ready to use law enforcement tools, if necessary, to exclude adulterated products from commerce.”

In September 2011, FSIS banned the “Big Six,” as Helena Bottemiller, then again at Food Safety News, reported:

Six dangerous strains of E. coli – dubbed “the Big Six” – will soon be banned from the beef supply, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced on Monday.

“This is one of the biggest steps forward in protecting the beef supply in some time,” USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen told The New York Times. “We do this to prevent disease and save lives.

The proposal, which will be presented in more detail by senior USDA officials on Tuesday morning, will declare six additional strains of E. making the sale of products contaminated with these pathogens illegal in commerce. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service will soon test ground beef, beef trimmings that go into ground beef, and machine-tenderized steaks for these pathogens.

E. coli O157:H7 has been illegal in beef products since 1994, a policy that was put in place in response to the historic outbreak that sickened hundreds and killed four children in the Pacific Northwest . The new policy, which will extend to E coli O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145, is expected to come into effect in March.

The meat industry did not react warmly to the announcement, while consumer groups unanimously welcomed the decision.

“Today’s announcement by the USDA that it will soon be ‘illegal’ to have six strains of non-O157 E. coli naturally present in ground beef is based on the idea that the government can make the products safe by banning a pathogen,” said James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, the group representing the vast majority of the meat industry. “This view is not supported by science.”

AMI believes the interventions currently used to eliminate E. coli O157:H7 will work for non-O157 strains and has criticized the USDA for adding costs it says will eventually be passed on to consumers.

“The USDA will spend millions of dollars testing these strains instead of using these limited resources for preventative strategies that are much more effective in ensuring food safety,” Hodges added, in a statement to reporters. “Imposing this new ground beef regulatory program will cost the federal government and industry tens of millions of dollars – costs that will likely be borne by taxpayers and consumers. It is neither likely to provide a significant public health benefit nor good public policy.

Food safety advocates, many of whom have lobbied the USDA to take action against strains of E. coli non O157 for years, welcomed the announcement and argued that the policy may well help the meat industry by avoiding costly recalls.

“It’s a huge step,” said Dr. Barbara Kowalcyk, CEO of the Center for Food Borne Illness Research and Prevention, who became a tireless advocate after her son lost his life to an E-contaminated hamburger. .coli O157:H7. “We believe this is going to have a significant impact on public health – fewer recalls, fewer illnesses, fewer deaths.”

Kowalcyk thinks the policy is actually a bargain, when you weigh the costs and benefits. The USDA estimates the new rule could cost the meat industry up to $10 million a year, not just for testing, but also for cooking meat that tests positive before it is released. does not reach store shelves.

“The average cost of a recall is $4 million to $5 million plus loss of consumer confidence,” Kowalyck added. “Preventing just two callbacks could offset the cost. And that doesn’t even take into account the human costs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the six strains targeted by the new regulations cause approximately 113,000 illnesses and 300 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

Nancy Donley, co-founder of STOP Foodborne Illness, whose son died in 1993 of an E. coli O157:H7 infection, was also very pleased with the announcement.

“All of us at STOP Foodborne Illness are absolutely thrilled to have the big six declared adulterants,” Donley said in an email. “It’s something we’ve been advocating for years now. We are pleased to see the USDA taking progressive action with an initiative that should greatly improve public health and safety rather than waiting for another major outbreak of foodborne illness to spur them to action.

The USDA announcement comes two years after Bill Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark, the nation’s largest food safety law firm (and publisher of Food Safety News), asked the department to declare all non-O157 STEC as adulterants. Petition (with attachments)

“I’m really happy,” Marler said. “This will go a long way to making our food supply safer.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a strong supporter of tougher food safety laws, echoed the praise, saying she was “pleased” with the decision.

“This is a critical step in improving our food safety system,” DeLauro said in a statement. “When a similar action was taken on E. coli O157:H7, its prevalence decreased almost fourfold, and I hope to see a similar result with these six strains. I applaud this new rule and hope to continue to improve the USDA’s ability to protect American consumers from unsafe foods.

If Salmonella is considered adulterant – at least the ones that make us sick and kill us – the sky won’t fall on us – history as a guide.

From the outbreak of E. coli Jack in the Box in 1993 at the outbreak of E. coli ConAgra in 2002, approximately 90% of my law firm’s revenue was from E. coli O157:H7 linked to hamburger. Considering E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant did not change things overnight, but government, industry and consumers over the decade have worked hard to “Put me out of business, please.”

Today, and over the past 20 years, cases of E. coli – O157 and/or “the Big Six” – related to hamburger has been a minimal and decreasing factor in my practice. It works – ask my accountant.