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Salmonella in Raw Poultry Products? –How to Protect Your Family

August 3, 2015

By: Jennifer McEntire, PhD, Vice President, Science Operations, Lloyd Hontz, Senior Director of Science Policy, Compliance and Inspection and Melinda Hayman, PhD, Director of Microbiology

You may have heard about recent Salmonella outbreaks associated with raw chicken products. We know that this pathogen (which generally causes diarrhea and vomiting, but can also cause much more severe illness or death) is often associated with chickens. People can become infected by touching and petting chicks, or by eating contaminated food, including chicken.

Today there is considerable public debate about whether or not Salmonella in raw chicken products should be deemed adulterated, which is a regulator’s way of stating a product is not legal for sale. Salmonella is naturally occurring in chicken, therefore it’s accepted that people need to thoroughly cook raw chicken (which will kill the Salmonella) prior to consuming.

So from that standpoint, the U.S. Department of Agriculture accepts the fact that a small portion of raw chicken can contain Salmonella and still meet the prescribed government performance standard. However, if that product is ever linked to human illness, then it’s considered adulterated.

But what about raw poultry that hasn’t been associated with an outbreak…yet… and could reasonably have some level of Salmonella in it?

Consumers can find great food safety information at the websites www.foodsafety.gov and www.fightbac.org.   The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put together helpful advice on how to avoid illness associated with these types of products. This includes:

  • Read the package. If it’s raw, then take precautions like those noted below to ensure the food is safe
  • Follow the cooking instructions (including any “hold” or “rest” time)
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure proper cooking is completed before serving (chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165F)
  • Clean and disinfect food preparation surfaces knives and other utensils, especially those that have come into contact with raw meat
  • Wash your hands (with soap and warm water) after handling raw meat

It’s also important to recognize that raw chicken (and other raw meat and poultry products) is regularly tested for Salmonella in order to minimize the likelihood of causing foodborne illness. And with the recognition that Salmonella is found naturally in poultry, the industry has made tremendous strides in decreasing the amount of Salmonella and other dangerous organisms in meat and poultry products.

Food safety is a partnership and the current outbreaks show that there is more work to be done, both by industry and by consumers. And even if the current regulatory policy accepts that Salmonella will show up once in a while, the industry is aggressively working to minimize and ultimately eliminate this pathogen. In the meantime, consumers should follow the CDC recommendations.

No one thinks that foodborne illness is okay, and we all play a role in keeping food safe.

 

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