The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Monday through its Food Safety and Inspection Service that they plan to declare salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken, with the goal of reducing the bacteria in chicken throughout the United States.
"Food safety is at the heart of everything FSIS does," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "That mission will guide us as this important first step launches a broader initiative to reduce Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry in the U.S."
Salmonella causes roughly 1.35 million infections in Americans every year, in addition to 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, added that, "This is just the beginning of our efforts to improve public health."
The USDA said in their statement that breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have caused 14 salmonella outbreaks and about 200 illnesses since 1998.
"Products in this category are found in the freezer section and include some chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kiev products," the USDA said. "These products appear cooked, but they are heat-treated only to set the batter or breading and the product contains raw poultry. Continual efforts to improve the product labeling have not been effective at reducing consumer illnesses."
Eskin told the Associated Press that declaring salmonella an adulterant will prevent chicken products from being sold if they're contaminated with more than the regulated level. The USDA added in their news release that the proposed limit will be "1 colony forming unit (CFU) of Salmonella per gram for these products, a level that the agency believes will significantly reduce the risk of illness from consuming these products."
"This action and our overall salmonella initiative underscore our view that our job is to ensure that consumers don’t get sick from meat and poultry products," Eskin said. "They shouldn’t be sold if they’re contaminated to the degree that people get sick."
The agency is discussing if a zero tolerance standard should be in place if a plant fails to reduce the levels of salmonella in their chicken products, and hopes to finalize the rules in the fall.
"USDA plans to present a proposed framework for a new comprehensive strategy to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributable to poultry in October and convene a public meeting to discuss it in November," the USDA said.