Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Rosa Luisa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter today wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging them to revise current pathogen testing protocols to improve test accuracy and protect the public health. The members wrote to USDA Secretary, Thomas J. Vilsack in response an article published this month by the Agricultural Research Service entitled, “Effect of Simulated Sanitizer Carryover on Recovery of Salmonella from Broiler Carcass Rinsates,” suggested the agency’s use of three antimicrobial sanitizers commonly used to reduce pathogens on poultry carcasses may cause false-negative results for Salmonella.
Testing for Salmonella plays a critical role in the Department’s inspection program to protect the safety of the food supply and the public’s health. Given the diversity of processing plants in the country and recent results of the Broiler Carcass Rinsates study, the members are calling on the Department to ensure that the use of chemical sprays and dips do not create false negative test results.
“We have to be vigilant when it comes to monitoring the safety of our food. This report is a reminder of the importance of good and efficient oversight when it comes to maintaining a safe food supply.” said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “We should never be placed in the position to question testing results in our poultry. The USDA should provide a thorough risk assessment and respond to the recent scientific findings of false-negative results to ensure we can remain confident in the safety of the food we buy for our families.”
“Recent studies calling into question the safety of the nation’s poultry processing are deeply troubling and highlight a major deficiency in our food safety system. The USDA must take these studies seriously and take immediate action to ensure that we are not masking the threat of Salmonella,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a senior member of the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for overseeing the USDA. “Ensuring the health and well-being of American people is of the utmost importance and the USDA must do more to keep food-borne illnesses out of the nation’s food supply. American lives depend on it.”
“This study is extremely troubling. We should never have to worry that the food we put on our plates could expose our families to dangerous Salmonella infection because of possibly faulty testing methods by the USDA. I look forward to hearing more from Secretary Vilsack so we can be sure that the USDA is doing everything it can to eliminate false-negative results and protect public health,” said Slaughter.
The full text of the members’ joint letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture is included below:
The Honorable Thomas J. Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
We write today to ask for an update of what steps the Department is taking to ensure its pathogen testing protocols adequately protect public health. We are concerned that recent scientific findings suggest some processing techniques may interfere with or invalidate pathogen testing results.
A recent article published by the Agricultural Research Service entitled, “Effect of Simulated Sanitizer Carryover on Recovery of Salmonella from Broiler Carcass Rinsates,” suggests the agency’s testing procedures for Salmonella may be affected by the use of chemicals by processing plants. The article found that three antimicrobial sanitizers commonly used to reduce pathogens on poultry carcasses may cause false-negative results. According to the article, one of the compounds continued to skew test results even after it was allowed to drain for a full five minutes before testing. Given the diversity of processing plants and pathogen testing locations, this research suggests the Department’s Salmonella testing results may be underestimating the presence of this pathogen.
Testing for Salmonella plays a critical role in the Department’s inspection program, the new poultry pathogen standards for which we advocated, and the Department’s Salmonella Action Plan. Therefore it is our view the Department must work to ensure that the use of chemical sprays and dips do not create false negative test results in order to protect the safety of the food supply and the public’s health.
Given these issues, we would ask the Department to respond to the following questions:
1. What actions does the Department plan to take in response to the recent findings by the Agricultural Research Service? How does the Department plan to ensure that its pathogen testing procedures ensure that results are accurate and consistent across all processing plants?
2. How many poultry processing facilities currently use one of the three chemicals identified in the article as potentially causing false negatives?
3. It is our understanding that Agricultural Research Services will begin using a new testing solution that the agency believes will prevent false negative readings. How effective is this new solution in preventing false negatives under the ARS study conditions?
4. How will the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) verify that the new buffering solution adequately addresses the potential for false negative results?
Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your response.
United States Senator
United States Senator
Rosa L. DeLauro
Member of Congress
Louise M. Slaughter
Member of Congress