USDA chicken inspection system faulted by Consumer Reports

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 19, 2013 - Consumer Reports says independent tests on more than 300 raw chicken breasts purchased at stores around the country found “potentially harmful bacteria'' in almost every sample, including organic brands.

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And a separate report published today by the Pew Charitable Trusts said that recent outbreaks of salmonella poisoning point to “serious weaknesses” in the USDA's oversight of chicken processing plants.

Pew's study followed two salmonella outbreaks tied to chicken produced by California-based Foster Farms in which more than 500 people were sickened. The report said the outbreaks show USDA needs to concentrate on efforts to prevent contamination at processing plants, particularly because many of the strains of salmonella linked to the illnesses are resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

Consumer Reports urged the USDA to scrap a plan for a new poultry inspection system that would replace many of its inspectors with industry employees, while allowing plants to speed up processing lines.

In a statement quoted by the Washington Post, the department's Food Safety Inspection Service said the reports confirm the need for the new inspection system and other “measures already underway,” including a Salmonella Action Plan aimed at helping plants reduce prevalence of the bacteria.

The National Chicken Council, meanwhile, noted that in the past five years the incidence of salmonella in chicken had decreased by 55 percent, and in the 10-year period ending in 2010 outbreaks of salmonella, E-coli and other pathogens had fallen by 40 percent.

“Eliminating bacteria is always the goal,” the council's president, Mike Brown, said in a statement. “But in reality, it's not always feasible.”

On its website, Foster Farms says it has instituted a “comprehensive food-safety program” including the implementation of 11 new anti-microbial processes'' at its fresh chicken plants. It also says the facilities are closed daily for four to six hours for a USDA-verified sanitation process.

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