The USDA has described salmonella in poultry as a complex problem with no single solution. However, a new rule could be one of the answers the agency is seeking.
The USDA said it was looking into changes that would restrict the amount of salmonella bacteria in breaded stuffed raw chicken products. The proposed rule would declare salmonella as an adulterant, which is a substance that ends up in a product when it’s being made or that is an unlisted ingredient. Products stored in a supermarket freezer like chicken kiev or chicken cordon blue would have salmonella classified as an adulterant. Any product that tests positive for salmonella at 1 colony-forming unit per gram prior to stuffing and breading would not be allowed to be offered to consumers. The company producing the chicken would have to initiate a recall.
The USDA has become more sensitive to salmonella due to the number of outbreaks involving breaded stuffed raw chicken over the last couple of decades. There have been 14 of them, which have created around 200 illnesses.
What makes salmonella a complex problem with breaded stuffed raw chicken is the fact that the chicken looks like they have been fully cooked and browned before being frozen. However, these products have only been heat-treated and still have spots of raw chicken that need to be cooked thoroughly. Also, multiple ingredients cook at different rates. The USDA has ordered label changes over the years that stress the need to make sure the chicken is cooked enough to serve.
The National Chicken Council does not appear to be on board with the proposed rule. The council does not think the change is based on science or data, and has spent millions of dollars to develop best practices with its members. The council believes the campaign has been paying off.
Furthermore, there is a concern the rule would shut down processing plants and push smaller companies out of the market. The National Chicken Council said it has petitioned the USDA for stricter standards on labels to clearly inform consumers how to cook the chicken. The council is still waiting for a response from the federal agency.
Salmonella is behind about 1.35 million illnesses annually and costs $4.1 billion.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed USDA rule.