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USDA: Our Salmonella Detection Is Not Accurate

USDA: So, you know that salmonella thing that we told you wasn’t a big deal. Well, it is a bigger threat than we thought. A new study has revealed that the US Department of Agriculture’s system for keeping consumers safe from the treat of salmonella might be seriously flawed.

Led by their own scientists, the study identified a possibility of false-negatives in salmonella screenings carried out on cadavers. Current protocols call for cadavers to be sprayed with antimicrobial chemicals to eliminate pathogens and then submerged into another antimicrobial chemical solution before randomly selected cadavers are placed into a bag of liquid that kills lingering pathogens. Finally, the liquid is analyzed in a lab and, pending the absence of a certain amount of pathogens, it is designated that the slaughterhouse’s chicken supply is safe for human consumption.

There is a major flaw in this process according to the new study by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. It suggests that the myriad antimicrobial solutions cadavers are showered and bathed with are not sufficiently rinsed away, and trace amounts end up in testing bags where they continue to kill bacteria while testing awaits. This inevitably leads to much lower final numbers than would exist on the production line.

According to Mother Jones, while incidences of positive test results for salmonella on chicken carcasses are decreasing (3.9 percent in 2013 versus 7.2 percent in 2009), actual cases of salmonella infections in the past 15 years are consistently strong. This is indicative of another USDA study that tested chicken samples from the end of the production line (chopped into pieces as opposed to the entire cadaver) that found a positive rate for salmonella of 26 percent—six times more than the testing of carcasses. “[This] means consumers could be being exposed to salmonella-contaminated chicken at much higher rates than the [USDA’s] carcass numbers suggest,” author Tom Philpott said.