The Center for Science in the Public Interest is asking the US Department of Agriculture to declare four antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella found in poultry as adulterants under federal law.
In a petition filed with the agency CSPI says antibiotic-resistant strains on meat and poultry were linked to at least 2,358 illnesses, 424 hospitalisations, and eight deaths—facts that CSPI says obligates USDA to keep those strains out of the food supply.
In July, USDA denied without prejudice a 2011 CSPI petition asking the agency to declare antibiotic-resistant Salmonella strains that caused illnesses as adulterants in ground meat and poultry. The new petition is asking for expanded relief by covering all meat and poultry products, not just ground products.
Since CSPI’s 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 of those outbreaks, 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.
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 United States from meat or poultry products.
CSPI is also 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. Declaring strains of Salmonella to be an adulterant means that USDA could get tainted meat and poultry products out of the marketplace before they were linked to illnesses.
“The Foster Farms outbreaks should have served as a wake-up call to USDA, but the agency keeps hitting the snooze button,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “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.”
The fact that USDA has initiated numerous recalls in outbreaks involving antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is further proof that the agency knows that the strains are adulterants capable of causing injury, according to the petition.
The USDA said it denied CSPI’s 2011 petition was that ordinary cooking is sufficient to kill Salmonella.
On September 18, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report to the President on combating antibiotic resistance, and the White House issued an executive order creating a task force charged with developing a strategy for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. CSPI criticised the Council committee for not urging more effective action to limit antibiotic use in animal production—a major contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat and poultry.