The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Wednesday announced a proposal to prevent future salmonella outbreaks that could be caused by poultry products, with a specific focus on breaded stuffed chicken.

“USDA is taking science-based, decisive action to drive down salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The proposal, he said, represents “the first step in a broader effort to control salmonella contamination in all poultry products, as well as a continued commitment to protecting American consumers from foodborne illness.”

It’s a foodborne disease outbreak when two or more people develop an illness caused by consumption of the same food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Salmonella is an infection caused by bacteria that can be transmitted through consuming infected food, water or interacting with infected animals.

If the proposal is adopted, salmonella would be seen as an “adulterant,” an ingredient that is in a product but not listed in the ingredient label. It would apply to frozen stuffed chicken products like chicken cordon bleu, which is filled with multiple ingredients that cook fully at different temperatures, making it difficult for consumers to know when their food is safely cooked all the way through.

In deciding to make salmonella an adulterant in the raw, breaded and stuffed chicken products, the Food Safety and Inspection Service “based its decision on several factors, including that since 1998, (the agency) and its public health partners have investigated 14 salmonella outbreaks and approximately 200 illnesses associated with these products. The most recent outbreak was in 2021 and resulted in illnesses across 11 states,” per the USDA press release.

The regulation would mean that any chicken product with a salmonella amount of one colony-forming unit (CFU) per gram before being stuffed with additional ingredients would fail the inspection and could not be sold on store shelves.

According to Science Direct, “The colony forming unit (CFU) is a measure of viable colonogenic cell numbers in CFU/mL. These are an indication of the number of cells that remain viable enough to proliferate and form small colonies.”

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Following the USDA’s proposal, the National Chicken Council expressed their “grave concerns” if the new regulations were to pass, noting “the precedent set by this abrupt shift in longstanding policy has the potential to shutter processing plants, cost jobs and take safe food and convenient products off shelves, without moving the needle on public health.”

They estimated that “over 200 million servings of this product will be lost, 500-1,000 people will lose their jobs, and the annual cost to the industry is significantly higher than USDA’s estimates. It is likely that this proposal would drive smaller producers of this product out of business entirely.”

The CDC estimates that salmonella is the cause of about “1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States every year.”

The public is allowed to post their opinions on the USDA’s proposal within 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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