Lawmakers from both the House and Senate are pushing more stringent food safety bills after the recent Frontline investigation into the food safety system, “The Trouble with Chicken.”
The hour-long segment, which investigated the spread of dangerous pathogens in food — particularly in poultry — reveals how easily contaminated meat and poultry can end up in people’s homes, and how preventable that can be.
In particular, Frontline investigated how a dangerous strain of Salmonella known as Salmonella Heidelberg caused more than 600 people to fall ill during an outbreak that lasted from March 2013 to July 2014. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), however, has not banned salmonella in chicken. It can be found in one in four pieces of chicken sold, according to the agency’s own tests.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act, which would give the USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated products. Currently, the agency can only recall meat or poultry if it contains a contaminant already banned by the USDA.
“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” Senator Gillibrand said in a statement. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens. The USDA must have the authority to recall products that test positive for contaminants, and consumers need to know when food has been recalled.”
Additionally, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) of the House of Representatives are pushing the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act, first introduced in the wake of the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak.
The legislation would require the USDA to recall any meat, poultry, or egg product that contained bacteria or viruses that could cause serious illness or death, or any that were resistant to antibiotics. Currently, the USDA will only issue a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered “adulterated,” which is ambiguously defined in law.
“The USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill would ensure there is no confusion,” DeLauro and Slaughter said in a statement.