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Why the USDA Isn't Recalling Salmonella-Contaminated Chicken That's Sickening Hundreds

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Factory Farming page, Health Issues page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

 As an especially vicious salmonella outbreak sickens hundreds across the country, U.S. Department of Agriculture regulators have declined to crack down on the poultry processing plants that spread the pathogen. On Monday, the USDA threatened to close the California-based Foster Farms facilities, but decided to keep the plant open under scrutiny on Thursday night after Foster Farms submitted a plan for "immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations."

The outbreak has sickened at least 300 people in 17 states, and 42 percent of the victims have been hospitalized - twice the normal hospitalization rate for salmonella. Yet neither state nor federal regulators have issued a recall order, stating the chicken is safe if fully cooked.

Industry publication Meatingplace interviewed Daniel Engeljohn, a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service official, about the decision to keep the infected meat on the shelves. Engeljohn pointed to a federal court decision in 2001 that crippled the USDA's ability to take meaningful action against meat processors that violate food safety standards. The notoriously conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the USDA did not have the authority to shut down Supreme Beef, a meat processing plant that repeatedly flunked tests for salmonella contamination. The justification for this ruling was that the meat was safe if it was cooked properly. Thanks to this decision, the USDA has only the power to ask the company at fault to recall their products voluntarily.


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