The most recent warnings about contaminated chicken come from the popular PBS series Frontline which aired a special report called “The Trouble with Chicken”. The emphasis in this documentary focused on the Foster Farms contamination of salmonella in 2013 and 2014 and particularly the strain called Heidelberg. It is more drug resistant and causes more sickness and death than the more common strain. It was responsible for the largest outbreak of sickness and death in the US.
Currently, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) which operates under the auspices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can only require a recall if the contaminant or pathogen has already been banned by the USDA. A good example is E. coli 0157. The ban allowed the massive beef recall of hamburger meat during the last year. So, why is salmonella not banned and allowed to linger in stores across the nation?
Let us consider what happens at a chicken producer’s factory. The FSIS inspectors are looking at the chickens for gross signs of damage or disease and not checking for pathogens. That is the responsibility of the company and apparently they are either not catching the pathogens or they are not reporting the results to the USDA. But the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is tracking the outbreaks as hospitals report salmonella events. So, after the outbreak has occurred and is getting worse, the CDC tells the USDA, and they tell FSIS who has no authority to demand a stop to production and start a recall. All the FSIS can do is request a recall by the company. And around we go as more people get sick!
There are two bills in both the US Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Senate it is the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act. In the House it is the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act. Both bills are sponsored by Democrats, and in the current gridlock, passage may be in jeopardy. And, as an added bonus we have the lobbyists for the poultry industry. They have a lot of power and can probably block the bill from ever being given a chance.
I have a thought about how to proceed with this dilemma. The next company that has a reported pathogen in their product should be told to shut down and taken to court by the USDA! Yes, recall the contaminated product but stop all production until the courts test the authority of the USDA. Of course, the problem is to find someone in the USDA with the brass to do anything. We all know that bureaucrats are risk-averse. So until then, cook chicken until dry (above 145 F) and clean everything with bleach. And maybe wear disposable gloves. On second thought, maybe just use “the other white meat”…