Tell USDA to Reject Zero Tolerance Policy for Salmonella

A personal injury attorney has filed a petition with the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), urging the agency to label 31 different strains of salmonella as “adulterants” in meat.

If USDA grants the petition, then if any of the 31 salmonella strains are detected on raw meat at any level, the meat would be recalled and the facility found in violation of food safety regulations.

That might sound like a good thing, but it’s not a sound risk-based approach – and it is likely to put smaller processors out of business. The USDA is accepting comments on the petition until midnight, Monday, March 23.

Attorney Bill Marler’s petition fails to recognize several key facts. First, salmonella can be in the animal’s lymph nodes, and thus can be found on the meat even if there was no fecal contamination. Second, many of these same strains of salmonella have been found in raw produce, which, unlike raw meat, is often not cooked before eating. And, third, salmonella has an “infectious dose.” In other words, people don’t get sick from exposure at extremely low levels.

In addition, rather than trying to identify the areas of greatest risk, Marler’s petition includes every strain of salmonella that has made anyone sick in the last two decades.

Creating a zero-tolerance policy for these 31 strains doesn’t make sense. But it is all too likely to push some small-scale processors out of business because of the extensive testing that would be required to implement the new policy.

Salmonella in raw meat is a serious issue. The appropriate answer would be to reduce “line speeds,” namely the speed at which animals are processed, so that better sanitation steps can be taken that would reduce all types of contamination. Over and over, we have seen that the greatest risk comes from the massive numbers of animals being processed too quickly at large facilities.

Two decades ago, Marler courted the media to get the E. coli bacteria on the agenda of policymakers, and he played a key role in getting USDA to outlaw the most virulent strains of E. coli in meat. He was a major player in the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and his ability to influence legislators and agency officials should not be underestimated.

Please join us in urging USDA to reject Marler’s petition. 

You can submit comments until midnight on March 23, 2020 at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FSIS-2020-0007

Your comments can be very short and simple, just a few sentences. Below is a sample comment, but you will have the greatest impact by writing your own – just use this one for ideas.

SAMPLE COMMENT

I urge USDA to reject the petition to classify 31 strains of salmonella as adulterants and contaminants in meat.  While salmonella is a serious problem, this very broad, zero-tolerance approach is not the answer.  Many of these strains pose only slight risks, yet the testing requirements that would result from classifying them as adulterants could put small-scale processors out of business. That would ultimately reduce food safety, by further consolidating our meat supply in the hands of large-scale operations.  

USDA should reject this petition and instead consider measures such as reducing line speeds in order to improve meat safety in this country.

MORE INFORMATION

FARFA recently took part in a meeting with USDA-FSIS officials and small-scale meat processors.  The issue of testing for salmonella was discussed at length because of the problems already being created by so-called “performance standard” testing.  You can read our article about that meeting and the salmonella issues HERE.