False negative Salmonella test results on poultry prompt ongoing concerns
FSIS on July 1 began using a “neutralizing buffer” solution to address concerns raised by a study published in May. Several groups that make up the Safe Food Coalition (SFC) say the study substantiates earlier claims that certain chemicals, especially cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), remain on chicken carcasses and can contaminate testing samples.
In a mid-May meeting, SFC asked FSIS officials if there was going to be documentation to validate the effectiveness of the new neutralizing buffer solution according to Tony Corbo, senior policy advisor at Food and Water Watch.
“They assured us that there would be, and we haven’t seen it yet,” he tells Food Chemical News.
FSIS “tried to assure us that there were not false negatives in the verification testing results that they had posted in the past,” according to Corbo. “They were telling us that through an abundance of caution, they were going to use a new rinsate.”
SFC members include the Center for Foodborne Illness, Research and Prevention, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, National Consumers League, STOP Foodborne Illness and the Government Accountability Project.
Corbo notes that SFC has scheduled another meeting with FSIS this week, and that the agency said it would be able to provide these assurances. However, a separate USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) study, which FSIS also participated in, showed that some of the washes were overpowering the neutralizing agent.
The National Chicken Council and its members have "a number of concerns around the change in the traditional buffered peptone water (BPW) for verification sampling of carcasses and parts to a new neutralized buffered peptone water (nBPW) solution," Ashley Peterson, NCC's senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, tells Food Chemical News.
"The reasoning behind the change was never stated by the agency nor has the agency demonstrated the impact of the nBPW on the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter. The latter is especially concerning in light of the fact that traditional BPW was used to establish the parts baseline, yet of July 1, 2016, plants are being sampled using the new nBPW. This new, more expensive nBPW is not readily available for the industry to use and the industry was given no time to research the impact nBPW may have on product sampling."
Worker safety issue
There is also a worker safety issue related to the poultry washes -- the sanitizers cause respiratory issues for workers and inspectors, Corbo notes.
SFC sked FSIS whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set up any exposure limits for the chemicals used in these plants.
FSIS responded that for most of the chemicals listed in Directive 7120.1 -- which lists all of the processing agents permitted in meat and poultry -- OSHA has not established permissible exposure limits, according to Corbo.
SFC also asked FDA for a meeting to determine what process the agency uses to evaluate the occupational safety of these processing agents, he says.
“If a company wants to use a processing aid, it goes to FDA, and then if it’s going to be applied to meat and poultry, FSIS has the option to use it. So I’ve had a preliminary discussion with the folks at FDA for the process of setting up the meeting, to look at how they evaluate not only the effectiveness of these processing aids from a food safety standpoint, but also whether they take into account any occupational safety issues.”
Corbo notes that Tyson Foods faces $263,498 in proposed fines for endangering workers by exposing them to amputation hazards, high levels of carbon dioxide and peracetic acid without providing personal protective equipment.
OSHA inspectors, responding to a report of a finger amputation at the company’s chicken processing facility in Center, Texas, identified two repeated and 15 serious violations, the agency announced Aug. 16.
“The fact that the new poultry inspection system does encourage companies to use more of these antimicrobial agents, it’s raising the issue from a health and safety standpoint among the workers and the inspectors to a new level,” Corbo says.
Several lawmakers are also urging USDA to revise its pathogen testing protocols following the study which suggested that commonly used antimicrobial sanitizers may cause false negative results for Salmonella.
In a June letter Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure that the use of chemical sprays and dips do not create false negative test results.
Delauro is the on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, but she is also the ranking member of the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee, and that’s where the labor department gets involved, Corbo notes.
DeLauro recently slammed the poultry industry for not correcting numerous safety violations detailed in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2005 report, following the release of an updated GAO report in May, which reported injury and illness rates in the meat and poultry slaughtering and processing facilities declined from 2004 through 2013, but noted the data may not be completely reliable.