Two significant human foodborne illness outbreaks were associated with ground turkey products in 2011 and 2012. Salmonella Hadar was the culprit in one outbreak, and Salmonella Heidelberg was in the other. Dr. William K. Shaw, Jr., office of policy development, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), shared the agency’s perspective on what was learned from these outbreaks at the International Association of Food Protection Annual convention.

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Both outbreaks were tied to individual companies, and the FSIS investigated the practices and processes used at these companies’ plants for making the ground products implicated in the outbreaks. Shaw said that the agency’s concerns after conducting the investigations were:

  • Inadequate and non-specific controls to prevent or reduce Salmonella
  • No correlation of standard to effective control of the pathogen
  • Lack of validated cooking instructions for ground turkey patties
  • Inconsistent use of antimicrobials on some, but not all source materials
  • Use of temperature control as the only intervention on raw parts prior to grinding


HACCP plan reassessment  

Based on these concerns, Shaw said that the agency required that all processors perform a HACCP Plan Reassessment for not-ready-to-eat ground poultry products, including mechanically separated and comminuted products. He said that processors were asked to take into account the outcomes from outbreaks associated with ground turkey products.

Shaw said that the FSIS has concerns about shared equipment between different types of ground, mechanically separated or hand or mechanically deboned and further chopped, flaked, minced or otherwise processed to reduce particle size products. Sanitation is particularly important in the production of comminuted poultry products. “The outbreaks show a change in the effectiveness of what has been regarded as appropriate sanitary conditions,” he said. “Establishments should evaluate the adequacy of their sanitation procedures for processing equipment, such as sanitation SOPs, prerequisite programs, and HACCP plans, and that these programs should address the procedures.”

The FSIS still wants processors to focus on sanitary dressing as a potential source of Salmonella contamination. Shaw said, “Establishments should ensure that slaughter and dressing procedures are designed to prevent contamination to the maximum extent possible. At a minimum, procedures should be designed to limit exterior contamination of birds and minimize digestive tract content spillage during dressing process.”

The need for processors to ensure that cooking instructions are validated was highlighted by Shaw, because of issues with cooking instructions for ground turkey patties implicated in one of the outbreaks. In the HACCP reassessment, Shaw said that it was important for ground poultry processors to carefully review their lotting practices. “Establishments should consider lotting practices and the ability to prevent lots from contaminating each other,” he said. Practices that should be considered are not carrying over production, cleaning and sanitizing between lots, and making sure that the grinding plant can trace product back to originating slaughter establishments.

Salmonella Interventions

Shaw said that establishments should evaluate the adequacy of any interventions applied to product source materials or product during grinding or blending. “Interventions should be evaluated for ability to reduce Salmonella , by logs,” he said. Consideration should also be given to incoming variability of Salmonella levels in live birds and on poultry parts. He also suggested that processors should consider implementing purchase specifications that require raw materials to have been treated with a Salmonella intervention. Then processors need to confirm that suppliers meet these purchase specifications.

Salmonella serotyping

To date, the USDA FSIS performance standards for Salmonella on poultry have been generic for all Salmonella serotypes. In spite of this, Shaw said that the FSIS expects processors to consider serotype information for Salmonella, focusing on presence and trends in serotypes of human health concern. He explained that the FSIS considers the CDC’s list of the top 30 serotypes of Salmonella of concern for human health to be the ones processors should be trying to eliminate the most.

Preharvest controls

Preharvest factors were important in the two ground turkey associated Salmonella outbreaks. Specifically, Shaw said that breeder management and breeder flock Salmonella status are of importance.

In the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak, breeders were found to be positive for Salmonella Heidelberg, and this contamination was being spread vertically.

Adulterated product

Shaw said that the FSIS will likely consider not-ready-to-eat poultry or meat products associated with an outbreak to be adulterated. This position is not popular with the poultry industry, since ready-to-cook products go through a kill step, cooking, prior to being consumed. Shaw said that the agency would request the producing establishment to recall if the product was in commerce. If the product was produced under insanitary conditions, the agency would determine when the establishment reestablished sanitary conditions.

Further action by FSIS

The FSIS is currently going to do a survey of chicken and turkey plants to determine whether or not changes were made in processes in response to the HACCP plan reassessment for ground products. If plants didn’t make any changes, Shaw said that this might factor into whether or not a Food Safety Assessment is done at that facility. He said that the FSIS will evaluate establishments and look at the changes that have been made and identify the changes that have been successful.

The FSIS has increased the sample size for ground products from 25 grams to 325 grams. Shaw said that the FSIS was working on what should be three months of sampling in July to gather data to set new performance standards for ground products for Salmonella and likely for Campylobacter as well.