USDA finds religious exempt chicken, small operators have pathogen problems

By Food Safety News on 20 August 2019

Tests showed a higher than average prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken that is produced under religious exemptions and at low-volume facilities, but the government is not going to propose rules for them.

In a process that began in June 2017, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) collected and tested more than 3,600 samples, according to an update this week. The sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that it will no longer sample or test the specific products for Salmonella and Campylobacter.

“FSIS found that generally religious exempt poultry products and a subset of the low volume products sampled have a higher than national average rate of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination,” the government reported.

But, saying those products make up a small portion of the country’s food supply, the USDA does not plan to take action toward regulation. A campaign to raise awareness is planned instead.

“The agency does not intend to propose performance standards for these products at this time,” according to the update.

“FSIS will use these results to conduct outreach with the industry and consumers to encourage the safe production and handling of these raw poultry products.”

The FSIS testing project specifically involved religious exempt chicken carcasses and low-volume poultry products. The agency “will no longer sample or test the products for Salmonella and Campylobacter.”

Neither religious exempt carcasses nor chicken products produced in low-volume operations are not subject to the government’s Salmonella contamination standards that apply to other chicken. Chicken carcasses that are religiously exempt from certain federal laws already do not receive the USDA inspection mark, which is printed inside the agency’s seal on non-exempt chicken.

Low-volume products are defined by federal code as being produced with an average daily volume of 1,000 pounds or less. The FSIS tested more than 3,600 samples of low-production chicken.

Beginning in June 2017, FSIS collected more than 150 samples from religious exempt chicken carcasses and tested them for Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination.

Both Salmonella and Campylobacter can cause serious illnesses and sometimes death in humans.

About the Author: 

Managing Editor Coral Beach is a print journalist with more than 30 years experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, trade publications and freelance clients including the Kansas City Star, the Independence Examinerand Land Line Magazine. Before joining Food Safety News, Beach was a reporter for The Packer newspaper, an online and broadsheet trade publication covering the fresh produce industry in North America. During her time at The Packer, Beach specialized in food safety topics related to legislation, regulation, recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks. A Jayhawk by birth and education, Beach earned her bachelor’s of science in journalism from the University of Kansas.

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