getting attention over the last 10 years has nothing to do with this
organism being an “emerged pathogen” as with E. coli O157:H7.
Campylobacter was described back in 1886 by Theodor Escherich
of Escherichia coli fame. This begs the question: Why are we
focusing on it only now? The answer is because it is very hard
to detect microbiologically and tools for detection have not been
Requiring the poultry industry to test for this organism will call
for very specific and expensive CO2 incubators, specialized media,
a phase contrast microscope, and personnel with far more microbiological training than most poultry companies currently employ
to conduct the testing.
Sampling methods hamper U.S. industry
There are other hidden costs involved with differences in
sampling methods for foodborne pathogens between countries
that impact trade. USDA requires a whole-carcass rinse to detect
Salmonella. In the EU, however, plant employees collect a 25-gram
neck skin sample from three different carcasses and pool them.
In some other countries, the test method used is completely
different (in particular for exported product) than the methods
used regularly in the U.S. and EU. The chicken skin is sterilized
using a blow-torch or iodine solution, then the skin is removed
using sterile tweezers and a sample of deep breast muscle is taken
and tested for Salmonella. Not surprisingly, Salmonella is never
found using this technique, allowing companies and countries
to state that they do not have any Salmonella on their poultry.
This is misleading and causes great confusion. By this testing
method, a company could say that their chicken is sterile, which
is, of course, ridiculous.
Meanwhile, the USDA-FSIS requires companies in the U.S. to
post their Salmonella prevalence, and their names, addresses and
P-numbers on the Internet for the world to see, placing them at a
competitive disadvantage. Efforts should be made by USDA-FSIS
to standardize these testing methods.
High costs without measurable benefits
Scientific data exist that clearly demonstrate no relationship
between human salmonellosis and prevalence of Salmonella on
poultry. The new performance standards will only place additional
burdens on the poultry industry, possibly resulting in higher food
costs to the consumer with no measurable public health benefit. Such
significant changes, without strong scientific data showing public
health benefits, place the U.S. chicken industry at a competitive
disadvantage for export opportunities. ■
Scott M. Russell, Ph.D., University of Georgia, firstname.lastname@example.org
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