Viability of salmonella

Salmonella: US less prepared than Europe

November 2022. In America, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking action to deal with the Salmonella outbreak that has contaminated chicken and turkey meat, which is responsible for about a quarter of the infections that are reported annually in that cluster of nations.

MAC (More About Chicken) has gathered information on the problem that has arisen in that area of the world, relying on scientific information from the veterinary sector, which follows all developments in any matter concerning the health of poultry farmed animals.

We therefore indicate the state of affairs in America by comparing it with the situation in Europe. This comparison also serves to explain Europe’s objections to opening up food imports from the US.

In order to understand what is being done in the USA and why, a premise must first be made: salmonellae are ubiquitous bacteria (i.e. they are present practically everywhere) and are responsible for food-borne toxins (infections that can result from infection with pathogenic micro-organisms that colonise intestinal mucous membranes or from ingesting food contaminated by these micro-organisms or even from the presence of toxins of microbial origin in food).

These bacteria are mainly found in the intestines of humans, domestic and wild animals. They are also frequently found in sewage, surface water and soil. In the environment they can survive for weeks or months under certain environmental conditions.

Their widespread distribution does not allow for their total eradication from livestock and food production environments. However, as a result of the use of targeted prevention and control plans, the prevalence of salmonella in both animal populations and the food they produce has been substantially reduced, which over the years has been accompanied by a gradual reduction in the number of salmonella toxins in humans.

That said, the US is preparing to launch three new control and prevention measures on the three main pathogenic strains associated with the consumption of chicken and turkey (out of the 2,500 serotypes identified to date).

The first involves checking for their presence before entering slaughterhouses, to avoid contamination of slaughtered meat.

The second involves the permanent monitoring of the presence of the three strains at the slaughter and processing stages, with sampling at the different stages.

It must be clearly stated that the measures that will be implemented in the United States already exist in Europe.

The Salmonella Control Plan for Poultry for 2022 – 2024 was approved by the European Commission under Art. 13 of Regulation (EU) 652/2014, which aims to ensure that appropriate and effective measures are taken to detect and control salmonellae potentially responsible for zoonoses (diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans) at the primary production level (on farms), in order to reduce prevalence (the number of individuals in a given population who are affected by a given disease at a given time, which can be calculated by the ratio of sick individuals to the population at risk of becoming sick plus the population already sick) and the danger to public health. Particularly in Europe, there are plans to monitor all species and types of food-producing animals in poultry farming both by official and self-monitoring.

The third precaution that will be applied in the USA is the indication of a maximum limit for these bacteria, and the withdrawal of meat from the market whenever this limit is exceeded. Again, it must be emphasised that in Europe there is no maximum limit: Salmonella in Europe must be absent in 25 grams of product.

The new American regulations are the consequence of the unquestionable failure of previous policies of voluntary reduction of food-borne salmonellosis by American companies: over the last two decades, the rate has actually remained the same, and today more than 23% of Salmonella cases are attributable to chicken meat (17%) and turkey (6%).

In Europe, on the other hand, we certainly cannot speak of a failure of preventive health policies because the rules to limit the presence of salmonella in poultry farming started much earlier and are contained in EC Regulation No 2160/2003 on the control of salmonella and other specified food-borne zoonotic agents.

The application of the measures contained in the Regulation and subsequent implementation plans has significantly reduced the number of human cases of salmonella toxins in Europe.

From 195,947 cases in 2004 to 52,702 in 2020 (EU One Health Zoonoses Report 2020 – ).

The downward trend in the number of annual cases has slowed down since 2016, which is why in the Salmonellosis Control Plan for Poultry 2022 – 2024, stronger preventive measures and control plans are planned with the aim of improving the health level achieved and further reducing salmonella food-borne infections in the population.


The editorial staff