FDA Says Lower Salmonella Rates 'Encouraging'

May 2, 2016

The federal Food and Drug Administration calls a report of a new low in poultry salmonella rates "encouraging."

The study is part of a larger government effort to reduce the persistently high rates of the food-borne illness in chicken and turkey, especially illnesses caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.  

Past studies have found roughly 40 percent of ground chicken and breasts, wings and thighs – the meat most of us buy – is already contaminated as it sits in your grocery store or favorite restaurant. (Harvest Public Media took a look at the high bacteria rates last year in collaboration with Frontline.)

The FDA report released this week, which covered all retail meat and poultry, showed the lowest levels of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in poultry since it began testing in 2002. This report covered samples taken from grocery stores during January 2014 to June 2015.

Some 20 percent of the chicken contained salmonella resistant to more than one antibiotic, the study found, compared to 45 percent in 2011. The rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in turkey has fallen from 50 percent to 36 percent during the same time period.

Salmonella is a common food-borne illness, infecting more than a million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The best prevention is cooking chicken and turkey to 165 degrees to kill all bacteria.

Under "findings of concern," the FDA reported the first instance of resistance to a specific antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, in retail pork and made plans to track it in the future, the report said. Ciprofloxacin is in a class of antibiotics that are prohibited by the FDA from use in food animals.