|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is releasing a progress report on its first 6 months of testing for Salmonella in large meat and poultry plants. The final rule on Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems set pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella that certain plants must meet, and FSIS conducts testing to verify that these standards have been met. FSIS is taking a conservative approach in interpreting and presenting this data because it is preliminary and incomplete in many ways. Nevertheless, the results are interesting as well as encouraging in light of the Agency's goal to reduce, to the extent possible, pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.
Results indicate that 88 percent of plants for which sample sets (a pre-determined number of samples) have been completed have met the Salmonella performance standards. Summary data indicate that Salmonella prevalence for broiler carcasses dropped from 20.0 percent before the Pathogen Reduction and HACCP rule was implemented to 10.4 percent afterwards. For swine carcasses, prevalence dropped from 8.7 percent to 5.5 percent.
The data available are insufficient to generalize across the industry. However, there is a general trend toward lower percentages of products that are positive for Salmonella. Consumers should continue to properly handle, prepare, and store all meat, poultry, and egg products in order to guard against foodborne illness.
On July 25, 1996, FSIS published its final rule on Pathogen Reduction and HACCP Systems, which established new requirements for all meat and poultry products to improve food safety. Under the rule, all slaughter and processing plants are required to adopt the system of process controls known as HACCP to prevent food safety hazards. In addition, slaughter plants are required to conduct microbial testing for generic E. coli to verify that their process control systems are working as intended to prevent fecal contamination, the primary avenue of contamination for harmful bacteria. FSIS also requires plants to adopt and follow written Standard Operating Procedures for sanitation (SSOPs) to reduce the likelihood that harmful bacteria will contaminate the finished product.
In addition, to verify that HACCP systems are effective in reducing contamination from harmful bacteria, the rule sets pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella that slaughter plants and plants that produce raw, ground meat and poultry have to meet. FSIS conducts testing to verify that plants have met the standards by taking samples of the products and analyzing them for Salmonella in FSIS laboratories.
The requirements contained in the final rule on Pathogen Reduction and HACCP are being phased in. The requirements for generic E. coli testing and SSOPs became effective for all plants on January 27, 1997. The requirements for HACCP and the Salmonella performance standards are being phased in based on plant size. All large plants--those with 500 or more employees--were required to implement these requirements in January 1998. Large plants account for approximately 75 percent of slaughter production. Small plants--those with 10 or more, but fewer than 500 employees--must implement these requirements by January 1999. Very small plants--those having fewer than 10 employees or annual sales of less than $2.5 million--have until January 2000 to meet these requirements. Thus, only large plants are at this time required to meet the Salmonella performance standards.
The performance standards for Salmonella represent the first time USDA has set microbial standards for raw products on such a broad scale and is the first step towards a greater reliance on performance standards for specific pathogens. Salmonella was selected as the target pathogen because it is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness, it is present at varying frequencies on all types of raw meat and poultry products, and it can easily be tested for in a variety of products.
Separate performance standards apply to each species and class of product and are listed in the final rule on Pathogen Reduction and HACCP (see section on documents available). Products covered by performance standards are carcasses of cattle, swine, and broilers, and ground beef, chicken, and turkey. However, compliance testing has not yet started for turkey carcasses and ground pork. The pathogen reduction performance standards are based on the current prevalence of Salmonella, as determined from FSIS' nationwide microbial baseline surveys. Thus, the standards are based on industry averages, rather than how much Salmonella it takes to make someone sick. This is because the Agency does not have solid data on the relationship between rates of contamination and their association with foodborne illness. FSIS intends to adjust the standards in the future as new baseline data become available.
The standards are expressed in terms of the maximum number of positive samples that are allowed per sample set (sample sets are statistically determined and range from 51 samples for broilers to 82 samples for steers/heifers). For example, in steers and heifers, only 1 out of 82 samples is permitted to be positive. For broilers, 12 out of 51 samples are permitted to be positive. Samples are either positive or negativethe results are not expressed in terms of number of organisms found in a sample.
Plants must achieve the standard consistently over time through good process control. If a plant persistently fails to meet the standard, it must take corrective action, or FSIS suspends inspection services for the product until plant management provides written assurances that appropriate action has been taken to correct the problem.
FSIS is not using test results to condemn products. Individual test results are not meaningful because the performance standards have been established to measure performance over time. Instead, the results are being used to verify that HACCP systems are effective in reducing contamination with Salmonella. The presence of Salmonella organisms above the standard is an indication that the plant's system for preventing contamination is not working, and the plant must take steps to correct the problem.
FSIS is presenting the results of the first 6 months of testing in the 178 large meat and poultry plants for which adequate data are available. "Adequate" is defined as having 10 completed sample sets. Thus, for poultry, because the data set is 51 samples, 10 data sets would total 510 samples.
Results indicate that most plants (88 percent) for which sample sets have been completed have met the Salmonella performance standards. Plants failing to meet the performance standard were formally notified and required to take immediate action to comply with the requirements.
The table on page 4 presents the Salmonella summary data for swine and broiler carcasses. These are the classes of products for which the most data are available. For swine carcasses, the baseline prevalence of Salmonella before the Pathogen Reduction and HACCP rule was implemented was 8.7 percent. That decreased to 6.4 positive samples during the pre-HACCP implementation phase (only the standard operating procedures for sanitation and generic E. coli testing had been implemented) and 5.5 percent after the Salmonella performance standards and HACCP became effective. For broiler carcasses, the baseline prevalence was 20 percent, the pre-HACCP implementation prevalence was 16.4 percent, and the percent positive after implementation of the Salmonella performance standards and HACCP was 10.4 percent. Caution should be used in comparing these data because the sampling protocols, seasonal periods, and the number of plants vary among the testing phases. Nevertheless, summary data indicate a general trend toward lower percentages of products that are positive for Salmonella.
(percent positive samples)
(percent positive samples)
|National baseline prevalence (before Pathogen Reduction and HACCP rule)||
|Before HACCP and Salmonella performance standards became effective (SSOPs and generic E. coli testing in place)||
|After HACCP and Salmonella performance standards became effective||
*More detailed data are presented in Progress Report: Pathogen Reduction Performance Standards for Salmonella, Sept. 1998 (see section on Documents Available).
Data for the other product classes--steers/heifers, ground beef, and ground turkey--were not abundant enough to make similar comparisons. However, preliminary analysis of data for ground beef suggests that the percentage of samples positive for Salmonella decreased as well through the testing phases.
An analysis of compliance by plant for poultry and swine indicate that 53 of 60 poultry plants met the standard, and 40 of the 53 had a Salmonella prevalence of less than 10 percent--well below the baseline of 20 percent. In swine, 8 of 10 plants met the standard, and all 8 had a prevalence below 5 percent--compared to a baseline prevalence of 8.7 percent.
A more complete report on Salmonella testing data in large plants will be available after the first year of sampling is completed.
The data indicate a general trend toward lower percentages of broiler and swine carcasses that are positive for Salmonella. However, consumers should continue to properly handle, prepare, and store all meat, poultry, and egg products in order to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
The following documents are available on the FSIS Web site, at http://www.fsis.usda.gov. Copies can also be obtained by calling the Constituent Affairs Office at (202) 720-8594.
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-3897
Fax: (202) 720-5704
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