A pharmacist's look at the supermarket and beyond

Modern Fowls

The FDA just announced modern poultry inspection techniques. How about that? I find it amazing that we are just now implementing science-based methods to detect microbial contamination in poultry destined to be consumed by people. Until now, the inspector essentially stood in one spot looking at chicken carcasses passing by on a conveyor belt trying to spot obvious flaws like broken bones, scabs, or bruising. This made for a more attractive chicken in the poultry case at the market but did nothing to prevent the threat of contamination by Salmonella or Campylobacter. The FDA predicts that the new testing procedures will prevent 5,000 food borne illnesses every year. Considering the cost of a recall, this should be a boon for the chicken industry.

I love this statement from the FDA: “ In 2014, we now understand that since pathogens are microscopic, even our very best inspectors cannot visually identify food borne illness-causing pathogens on a piece of chicken, regardless of how much time they have to inspect it.” I almost choked on my chicken when I read that! How very modern!

The Food Safety and Inspection Service is finally taking action. “FSIS will now require that all poultry companies take measures to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs. Also for the first time ever, all poultry facilities will be required to perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter. These requirements are in addition to FSIS’ own testing, which the agency will continue to perform.”

In looking into this, I discovered that the speed of chickens move along that conveyor belt at a rate not to exceed 140 birds per minute! So, under the old rules, inspectors had less than half a second to visually inspect a bird!

Some recent, notable recalls:

March 2014, Foster Farms issues a voluntary recall of chicken prompted by a single illness associated with a specific fresh chicken product.

January 2014, Tyson recalls 34,000 pounds of “mechanically separated chicken products” because of possible Salmonella contamination.

October 2013, A San Francisco Costco recalls 40,000 pounds of rotisserie chicken in connection with an earlier Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak that did not result in a recall because there no clear evidence that it originated at the processing plant. This recall resulted in 30 FDA inspectors being put back to work after being furloughed during economic hard times.

I’m just thankful that after six decades of poultry inspection, the FDA recognizes the need for contamination testing BEFORE the chicken goes to market, rather than reacting after people get sick.

1 Comment

  1. Very good article. I will be dealing with many of these issues as well..

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