WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2014 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is repeating its plea to get four antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella listed as adulterants under federal law – allowing the government to get infected meat and poultry off supermarket shelves before they are linked to illnesses.
USDA in July denied a 2011 CSPI petition to declare as adulterants antibiotic resistant Salmonella strains in ground meat and poultry. The new petition makes the same request but covers all meat and poultry products, not just ground products. The document points out that antibiotic strains on meat and poultry have been linked to at least 2,358 illnesses, 424 hospitalizations, and eight deaths, which the advocacy group says “obligates USDA to keep those strains out of the food supply.”
In a news release, CSPI said that since its 2011 petition, two multi-state outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg linked to non-ground chicken products from Foster Farms have sickened 750 consumers and hospitalized 233. In the second outbreak, it said, USDA allowed contaminated products to remain on the market for nearly 10 months as the number of those sickened doubled.
CSPI says that USDA, which had initiated recalls in some but not other outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, uses its authority in an arbitrary and inconsistent way —putting consumers at risk.
“The Foster Farms outbreaks should have served as a wake-up call to USDA, but the agency keeps hitting the snooze button,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI food safety director. “USDA should be testing for antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella to keep contaminated foods out of grocery stores — just as it now can do for the most dangerous strains of E. coli. Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is no less dangerous and kills twice as many Americans each year.”
In its release, CSPI noted that in 1994, USDA declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant after it sickened more than 700 consumers and caused three deaths from undercooked hamburgers. The agency acted again in 2011 when it declared six strains of shiga-toxin-producing E. coli to be adulterants, though those strains weren’t linked to a single outbreak in the U.S. from meat or poultry products.
CSPI said it is now asking USDA to institute a sampling and testing program to detect the presence of the Heidelberg, Typhimurium, Newport, and Hadar strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella.
One reason USDA said it denied CSPI’s 2011 petition was that ordinary cooking is sufficient to kill Salmonella. But CSPI said the agency did not provide any scientific support for that assertion, and pointed to a number of studies indicating that consumers’ cooking, handling, and cleaning practices do not adequately control the bacteria at home.
CSPI also noted that USDA considers E. coli O157.H7 an adulterant in beef partly because some consumers prefer to eat the meat rare or medium rare. And it said that USDA, in response to its petition, said it was “not aware of any data to suggest” consumers consider ground poultry, pork or lamb to be properly cooked when rare, medium-rare or medium.
CSPI said its latest petition provides USDA with recipes from the New York Times, the Food Network and other sources that show otherwise.
“The number of illnesses and hospitalizations alone shows that USDA’s confidence in Americans to control antibiotic-resistant Salmonella with proper cooking is misplaced,” DeWaal said. “The key is to reduce consumer exposure by keeping these strains out of the meat and poultry products altogether.”
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