It’s time to overhaul poultry safety regulations

Nearly 30 years ago, an E. Coli outbreak swept the United States, killing four children, leaving 187 people with permanent injuries such as kidney or brain damage, and infected hundreds of others. Most victims were under 10 years of age.

hens in the hen house

The illness was tied to contaminated ground beef in Jack in the Box hamburgers, and involved a particularly dangerous strain of E. coli, called E. coli O157:H7. The silver lining from this tragic event were the sweeping changes in regulation for beef products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) effectively set up a strategy to keep this pathogen out of beef products. Unfortunately, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has not made enough progress with poultry regulation.

Salmonella and Campylobacter are specific types of bacteria found in chicken and turkey, and they account for over 70% of illnesses tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly two million Americans are sickened by these types of bacteria every year, with 21% of Salmonella cases and 66% of Campylobacter cases attributed to poultry.

The FSIS’s poultry safety rules have not kept up with the evolving science and research surrounding foodborne illness. There were benchmark standards set in place for slaughterhouses many years ago, but the standards do not apply to raw poultry itself. Worse, the standards are not legally enforceable. Due to this lack of oversight, the FSIS routinely inspects and passes Salmonella-contaminated raw poultry products.

With our advanced knowledge of foodborne illness, government scientists know that contamination typically originates on the farm, before the animals even reach the slaughterhouse. Some forward-thinking poultry producers are already implementing improved sanitary practices, including vaccinating their herds.

Yet the FSIS has yet to implement a regulatory system for farm sanitation, or even the microbial quality of the animals before they enter the slaughterhouse. These are some of the many ways that the FSIS program lags behind modern standards. Changes must be implemented so to avoid another historic foodborne illness tragedy.

The attorneys at Allen & Allen are skilled litigators in foodborne illness. If you or someone you know has experienced foodborne illness due to the negligence of another, call us for a free consultation at 866-388-1307.