USDA Finalizes New Rule to Keep Salmonella Out of Raw Stuffed, Breaded Chicken Products

A disproportionate number of salmonella food poisoning outbreaks have been linked to frozen chicken products, which are breaded and stuffed, giving the appearance that they are cooked

A new rule passed by federal food safety regulators declares salmonella an adulterant in breaded and stuffed chicken products, making it easier to remove the uncooked frozen meat from the market prevent the spread of food poisoning outbreaks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published the final rule on April 26 in the Federal Register. It stems from a number of salmonella poisoning outbreaks in recent years linked to frozen stuffed breaded chicken, which are raw but may give the appearance of being cooked.

The rule declares Salmonella an adulterant in any raw breaded stuffed chicken product. This includes products like frozen chicken cordon bleu breasts or breaded broccoli and cheese stuffed chicken products sold by many food companies.

Salmonella poisoning causes symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and stomach cramps and can last for roughly a week. In most people, the symptoms will pass, but in some cases, especially those with weakened immune systems or older persons, salmonella poisoning can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Salmonella causes more than 1 million human infections in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Poultry is the leading source of salmonella illnesses.

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Stuffed Chicken Products’ Salmonella Risks

Raw breaded stuffed chicken products are pre-browned and may look as if they are cooked, but the chicken is raw. The products are frozen and require consumers to cook them. But if consumers don’t cook the products to a specific internal temperature necessary to destroy Salmonella, they can become sick.

These products account for less than 0.15% of the total chicken supply in the U.S. However, outbreaks linked to these products account for approximately 5% of all chicken-associated foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. from 1998 to 2020.

The FSIS has investigated 14 salmonella outbreaks linked to raw breaded stuffed chicken products since 1998, which caused hundreds of illnesses. A recent outbreak in 2021 led to dozens of illnesses across 11 states.

New Rule May Lead to More Salmonella Recalls

Under the new rule, raw breaded stuffed chicken products cannot contain Salmonella in excess of 1 colony-forming unit (CFU) per gram or higher. Failure to meet this standard means the product, and any products from the tested lot, will not be permitted to be used in the final breaded/stuffed product and cannot be sold to consumers.

The FSIS plans to carry out verification procedures, including sampling and testing raw chicken products prior to allowing them to be stuffed and breaded.

“This final determination marks the first time that Salmonella is being declared an adulterant in a class of raw poultry product,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. “This policy change is important because it will allow us to stop the sale of these products when we find levels of Salmonella contamination that could make people sick.”

The USDA and the FSIS announced the draft version of the rule in 2022. This is the first time a foodborne pathogen has been declared an adulterant on a wide scale by the USDA. Toxin-producing E. Coli strains are also considered adulterants, but only in ground beef.

The FSIS said the final rule is part of the effort to reduce Salmonella illnesses linked to the poultry supply in the U.S. and plans to address other poultry products later this year with other regulations.

The rule, sampling, and verification regulations will go into effect in one year.


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