The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recently released the results of its Salmonella and Campylobacter baseline study of broiler parts conducted at processing plants across the country from January to August of 2012. Just less than 2,500 parts were sampled from 449 establishments under federal inspection (see Table 1). In total, 26 percent of the parts sampled were positive for the presence of Salmonella, and 21 percent were Campylobacter-positive. These results compare unfavorably with the results of the 2007-2008 young chicken baseline study where whole carcasses were sampled post-chill, and 5.6 and 10.6 percent were found to be positive for the presence of Salmonella and Campylobacter, respectively.

Dr. Ashley Peterson, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, National Chicken Council, told the audience of the Poultry Processor Workshop, sponsored by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, that she wished that the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service had collected more samples. “They didn’t collect enough samples to separate out the parts statistically. In my mind, they should have run another six months so we could have had a performance standard for individual parts. You would expect some differences.”

Peterson said that the USDA did some most probable number analysis for the Salmonella and Campylobacter to estimate the total number of cells of these bacteria types that might be found on the carcasses. The most probable number estimates were described by Peterson as “low loads, perhaps lower than you might have expected based on the incidences.”

The USDA will likely use the results of this baseline study to establish a performance standard for chicken parts for Salmonella and Campylobacter. Peterson said that the agency usually uses 80 percent of the national average and factors in the Healthy People 2020 goals. Eighty percent of the estimated national prevalence of Salmonella on the chicken parts in the baseline study is 19.2 percent. Peterson said that the Category 1 performance standard would presumably be less than 10 percent. “Is this achievable?” she asked. Of particular concern to Peterson were necks and giblets, samples of which were positive for Salmonella at rates of 55 and 40 percent, respectively.

Applying the same logic and math to the Campylobacter results of the chicken parts baseline study would also yield a Category 1 level for Campylobacter of less than 10 percent. Peterson asked, “Is this doable?”

The serotypes of the Salmonella isolated in the chicken parts baseline study were identified. The most commonly found serotype was Salmonella Kentucky at 30 percent. The second and third most commonly found serotypes were Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium at 24.7 and 20.6 percent, respectively, and both of these serotypes are human pathogens.

NARMS changes

The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System monitors retail meat and poultry as well as on the farm. Peterson said that there have been recent discussions about pulling NARMS back to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She said that a USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory had been doing the on-farm monitoring, but that this activity was stopped.

The FDA was interested in obtaining isolates from on-farm samples and ultimately wants to enter them into PulseNet, according to Peterson. She said that the FDA has conducted pilot studies for all species, and the poultry pilot study was finished recently. Peterson said that currently there are concerns about funding and laboratory capacity for the FDA to do all of these samples.

Peterson said that the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the FDA are working together because both agencies are interested in what occurs on the farm. On February 20, 2013, the USDA published a notice instructing plant inspection personnel to start sampling cecal contents of poultry at slaughter on March 1, 2013. She expressed some concern regarding assumptions that the FDA has already made about cecal contents and how this correlates to on-farm sampling.

Peterson also expressed concern over the USDA’s collection of grower information, since the notice on cecal sampling asks for the owner’s/producer’s name and address to be entered into the USDA’s Performance Health Information System. Poultry industry groups are particularly sensitive to the potential for the release of this information to the public, because of recent data releases by other government agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency.

FDA hatchery inspections

FDA personnel have been visiting broiler hatcheries, Peterson reported, and they are there to verify compliance with the Egg Safety Rule. In the past, broiler hatcheries sold surplus eggs prior incubation to the egg breaker market. She said that most hatcheries would hold eggs for at least four days before deciding if the eggs would be set in incubators or sold. The Egg Safety Rule, which is an FDA regulation, requires that all eggs be refrigerated at or below 45F within 36 hours of being laid. Since eggs in a hatchery are held at a higher temperature than 45F, these eggs can no longer be used for human consumption. These eggs are now diverted to pet food even though they would be perfectly safe for human consumption after being pasteurized and incorporated into egg products.

Industry sources have told Peterson that FDA personnel are asking lots of questions about antibiotic use in hatcheries on their visits. The FDA said that inspectors are asking questions verifying compliance with the Cephalosporin ban. Peterson said the questions that have been relayed to her are far reaching and that the industry should feel comfortable challenging some of these questions. She said that the FDA is asking about biosecurity plans and formaldehyde use in the hatchery and has asked for material safety data sheets for chemicals used in the hatchery.

Peterson said that there have been some issues with some FDA personnel and their unwillingness to comply with all aspects of the company’s biosecurity program when making hatchery visits. She said, “FDA must comply with your biosecurity principles.” One issue that has surfaced is the amount of time required between visits to a facility that has poultry and a visit to a hatchery. She said that the National Chicken Council will continue ongoing discussions with the FDA to understand how many hatcheries have been visited and how to limit the questions.