This is a follow-up to our Supply Chain Matters previous commentary regarding the large recall of ground turkey in the U.S. An article published in the Wall Street Journal this week (paid subscription or metered view required) indicates that U.S. government inspectors discovered the dangerous form of salmonella last year, and four subsequent times this year.  An apparent gap in federal guidelines does not context salmonella as a poisonous contaminant.  The article provides an interview quote from the USDA’s top food official who indicates; “unlike E.coli, salmonella isn’t officially considered a dangerous adulterant in meat unless that meat is directly tied to illness or death”. Also noted in the WSJ article is a startling statistic- meat plants are expected to pass a performance standard that allows up to 49.9 percent of tests to come back positive for salmonella.  That’s right, read that phrase again, as we had to. Up to half of tests proving salmonella positive does not qualify for action! Not apparently considered is that this latest strain is highly resistant to normal antibiotics therapies.

Translation: lots of people have to get seriously sick with salmonella before regulators can effectively act.

In defense of the USDA, in 1999, it previously tried to shut down a Texas ground beef plant.  A federal appeals court ruled, from arguments of lawyers, that salmonella is naturally occurring and did not pose a threat as long as consumers cooked meat thoroughly.  The USDA is apparently now considering a petition to declare antibiotic-resistant forms of salmonella as adulterants.  Good luck with that with all the food company lobbyists surrounding Washington.

Let’s summarize the situation.

Thus far, 107 people have been seriously sickened from an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella which government regulators discovered a year ago, but could not act because of prior legal precedent.  Over 36 million pounds of ground turkey have now been recalled, but many consumers were unaware of the previous inspectional findings. Did the food processor in question take any remedial action to look into the problem when other discoveries were noted this year?  Turkey and other poultry farms continue to utilize large amounts of antibiotics to spur growth, and scientists now speculate that these new antibiotic strains of contamination are the result.

The legal community, who are quite adept in sponsoring web sites alerting consumers about another serious incident of a food recall, can also help food processors to lessen the USDA’s ability to act on serious outbreaks of salmonella in food.

It seems that key participants in poultry and other food supply chains have some serious homework to do regarding the overall quality standards of the food we consume. My doctor advised that I eat more poultry for a healthier diet.  Now what?

Bob Ferrari