Food safety is the top priority for companies that produce and process chicken products in the United States, and the industry prides itself on delivering safe, affordable and wholesome food both domestically and abroad. The chicken industry continues to meet food safety challenges head-on and has done an outstanding job of improving the microbiological profile of raw products.
Federal Government Oversight
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is responsible for inspection at broiler chicken processing facilities (those facilities that process chickens for meat). The U.S. meat and poultry inspection system complements industry efforts to ensure that the nation’s commercial supply of meat and poultry products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged.
Food safety standards are applied to all chicken products produced in the United States and countries that import chicken products must also meet these federal standards. All chicken products must meet or exceed these safety standards set forth by FSIS in order to reach American consumers.
Industry Progress in Reducing Prevalence of Salmonella on Raw Chicken
One of the pathogens monitored by FSIS is Salmonella, whose prevalence is monitored on a routine basis. In the most recently published reports, for calendar year 2012, an average of 4.3 percent of chicken carcasses at processing plants nationwide tested positive for detectable levels of Salmonella – well below the USDA performance standard of 7.5 percent for Salmonella in raw chicken products.
Broiler Percent positives for Salmonella during FSIS HACCP Verification Testing, 2004-2012
Source: USDA 2012 Annual Report
Are chickens labeled “Kosher,” “free-range,” “organic,” or “natural” lower in Salmonella bacteria?
FSIS notes that they do not know of any valid scientific information that shows that any specific type of chicken has more or less Salmonella bacteria than other poultry.
Is consumption of chicken having an impact on salmonellosis in humans?
Publicly available data show the prevalence of Salmonella on raw poultry products has been significantly reduced since the performance standards were implemented, but the incidence of salmonellosis in the human population shows no measurable improvement during the same time period.
If consumption of poultry were contributing to the prevalence of salmonellosis, then changes in prevalence in fresh poultry would be reflected in changes in human salmonellosis. This relationship has not been established. In fact, Salmonella prevalence in chicken increased from 2000-2005 and decreased dramatically from 2005-2012, but no significant changes in human salmonellosis occurred. This clearly indicates that consumption of poultry is not having a significant impact on salmonellosis in humans.
The bottom line is that there is a lack of data that clearly identifies which foods cause foodborne illnesses. The National Chicken Council has been a strong advocate of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improving their collection of attribution data.
How can consumers prevent salmonellosis?
For consumers, the bottom line is that chicken is safe when properly cooked and handled, and that chicken producers and processors are continually working to make them even safer. Instructions for safe handling and cooking are printed on every package of meat and poultry sold in the United States – when followed, one can be assured of a safe eating experience every time. Additional food safety information is available from resources such as www.fightbac.org and www.eatchicken.com.