salmonellaBy Maureen Mahoney 

Is the FDA doing enough to protect consumers from salmonella outbreaks?

With illnesses related to salmonella continuing to pose a major threat to public health, we’d expect the FDA to take a strong regulatory stand against contamination of animal feed with salmonella bacteria. Instead of strengthening its protections, however, the FDA has done the opposite.

Last week, according to the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), the FDA quietly dropped its ban on the sale of animal feed that had been contaminated with certain strains of salmonella. These rules had been protecting consumers since 1967.

The FDA argues that it’s loosening its rules only on strains of salmonella that don’t lead to illness in livestock. But according to FACT, these same strains have been connected to sickness in humans, and notes that there is “strong evidence” that people have gotten sick from salmonella because of bacteria in animal feed.

Contamination of pet food with any strain of salmonella is still illegal, because according to the FDA, humans often handle – and can get sick from — salmonella in pet food. There have already been three recalls of pet food from one company, Natura Pet Products, Inc., due to salmonella contamination in this year alone.

Salmonella contamination is an issue of increasing concern to consumers. According to research released in April by Consumer Reports (CR), 5% of the turkey samples they examined were contaminated with salmonella. Moreover, CR found that some of the salmonella they detected was resistant to certain drugs. In 2011, a salmonella outbreak in turkey led to illness in over seventy consumers and at least one death.

Salmonella contamination doesn’t only affect meat-eaters. For example, in 2012, producers issued a recall on peanut butter, showing that the bacteria can easily spread to other foods.

The FDA should be intensifying, not weakening, its efforts to protect consumers from illnesses. We urge the agency to reinstate its restrictions on all salmonella in animal feed to help protect consumers from salmonella illness.

Consumers should also take careful steps to reduce the chances of getting sick. Check out Consumer Reports’ tips for safely cooking turkey and hamburgers on the grill this barbecue season.