WASHINGTON -- The government's Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point program has cut incidences of salmonella on meat and poultry at small plants by almost 50%, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told the National Chicken Council's annual meeting here.
HACCP's implementation at large plants in January 1998 halved the incidence of salmonella contamination in broiler chicks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In January the federal inspection system was officially implemented at 2,815 small packing houses -- plants with 10 to 499 employees -- across the country.
"After we jumped the first hurdle and had success with implementation in the large plants, nay sayers said it couldn't be done in the small plants," Glickman said. "I'm here to tell you that not only can it be done, it is being done."
Before the HACCP plan was implemented at small plants, 20% of young chicken carcasses tested positive for salmonella, Glickman said. After six months under the HACCP program, that number was down to 13.9%, a decline of almost one-third. In ground beef, incidences of salmonella were cut by more than one-half in small plants, Glickman added.
"I think we can say with confidence that HACCP, so far, has been a success," Glickman said. "The greatest challenge is still to come, with the very small plants prepared to come on line in January 2000. But I'm confident that we will be successful there as well."
Before the HACCP plan, testing at large plants showed salmonella bacteria had contaminated 20% of broiler chickens. After nine months of HACCP, levels dropped to 10.4%. USDA officials say swine carcasses tested before HACCP showed 8.7% with salmonella, but after HACCP, the bacteria was detected on only 5.5%.
Later in the meeting, the NCC announced a new approach to improve food safety: a commitment to test new interventions on the farm and in processing plants.
"Today the chicken industry steps to the forefront of the battle to improve food safety in America," said Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms, Salisbury, Md., and outgoing chairman of the NCC. "The measures being tested should add significantly to the already large margin of safety in our ready-to-cook products."
Several individual NCC-member companies have agreed to test various new interventions like trisodium phosphate, acidified sodium chlorite, electronic pasteurization and treatment of bedding material used by live birds.
"A number of interventions have worked well in laboratory settings but need to be tried on a large scale to see if they are effective and practical," said Dr. James Marion, the NCC's technical adviser.
Scientists estimate salmonella sickens 3.84 million people each year and costs billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical costs.