Eskin: USDA rethinking how to deal with Salmonella
OCEAN CITY, Md. — The federal government is rethinking its approach to reducing Salmonella-based illnesses from poultry, a top USDA official told local poultry industry professionals on Sept. 28.
Sandra Eskin, recently appointed USDA deputy undersecretary for food safety, told attendees at the National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing and Live Production that Salmonella sickens one million Americans every year and that 20 percent of those illnesses are linked to poultry.
She said characterizing the Food Safety and Inspection Service as “not just a regulatory agency, it is a public health regulatory agency,”
Eskin decried the fact that there has not been a significant decrease in the incidence of illnesses caused by Salmonella in more than 20 years, despite a specific government goal of reducing Salmonella infections by 25 percent by 2020.
Eskin said a major challenge is “emerging food-borne pathogens known as REP strains — recurring, emerging and persistent strains — such as Salmonella infantis and Salmonella reading.”
“We have seen reductions in Salmonella contamination in poultry, but they haven’t led to meaningful reductions in infections,” she said. “If our current policies are not moving us toward our goal, perhaps it’s time to rethink our approach.
“We need to find a way that not only reduces contamination but reduces illnesses. Our policies must be grounded in the best available science, but we should also consider experimenting with new, innovative approaches.
“I would like to see us leverage recent microbiological advances that enable more in-depth characterization of Salmonella strains to help us refine our criteria for Salmonella control.
“We have much more advanced tools to measure and characterize Salmonella than were available in mid-1990s when we first set performance standards. We should be using these tools as part of our verification strategy.”
Eskin wants to control Salmonella throughout the entire poultry supply chain.
She acknowledged FSIS does not have direct regulatory authority on the farm but “we are thinking about ways we can factor in the use of preharvest intervention at the point where FSIS jurisdiction begins.
“We know most Salmonella contamination enters the facility with the birds and the more you can reduce contamination at point of slaughter, the less contamination and cross-contamination you’re going to have to deal with in the establishment. There is more Salmonella contamination in chicken parts than in chicken carcasses and more in comminuted chicken than in chicken parts,” Eskin said.
“Ultimately, FSIS would like to establish a framework for Salmonella control that better meets our current goal but can still respond to future needs. Long-term, we need standards that are flexible enough to react in real time to changes in the industry and scientific advances,” she said.
She stressed, “Moving forward on this front will require collaboration and an on-going dialogue between industry, consumer groups, researchers and the agency. I strongly ask that you all get involved.
“We have so much to learn from you. We need to understand what works and doesn’t and we need to come up with policy and standards that achieve our goals.”
Prior to her USDA appointment, Eskin spent more than a decade as project director for food safety at The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The national meeting, organized by the Delmarva Chicken Association, was held at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel.