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Mind the turkey, risks revealed


US consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Consumer group, revealed this week that the turkey industry does not appear to be controlling hazard as well as chicken and ground beef companies. Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests in turkey slaughter plants showed that 13 per cent of US turkeys are contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. In 2001, the USDA collected over 2,200 turkey samples from some 45 plants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Salmonella in food is responsible for 1.3 million illnesses, 15,000 hospitalisations, and over 500 deaths a year. According to a statement from the CSPI Salmonella testing is a critical part of the USDA's program to reduce hazards in meat and poultry products under 1996 reforms. However, until this year the turkey industry has been largely exempt from the testing program, which began in 1998 for chicken and beef. In 2000, Salmonella was found in 9.1 per cent of chicken samples and 3.3 per cent of ground beef, according to USDA. The USDA tests found broad variation among turkey slaughter plants. Among the cleanest third of the plants, the rate of Salmonella contamination was 5% or less. But in the worst 15% of the plants, at least one in every five birds had Salmonella. In the dirtiest plant checked by USDA, a staggering 50 per cent of the turkeys were contaminated with Salmonella. "The large number of plants producing relatively clean turkeys shows that farming and slaughter practices can produce turkeys with little or no Salmonella "said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "But some plants are marketing large numbers of contaminated turkeys. It is especially troubling that USDA won't tell the public the contamination rates at the various plants." At a recent press conference DeWaal announced that the CSPI has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain plant-by-plant data from USDA. At the same conference representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the numerous federal agencies involved in ensuring food safety ineffective and inefficient at controlling hazards like Salmonella. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the numerous federal agencies involved in ensuring food safety ineffective and inefficient at controlling hazards like Salmonella. "It is imperative that we ensure that the federal government enforces the highest food- safety standards to protect the health of all American families," said DeLauro, author of the Safe Food Act (HR 1671). "Currently, 12 different agencies all with varying and conflicting missions, attempt to work together to inspect our nation's food. A single food agency would optimise federal food safety-resources, centralise the fragmented food-safety system, and minimise the duplicative efforts." Two months ago CSPI petitioned the USDA to disclose on the Internet plant-specific Salmonella testing data so that consumers could identify the contamination rates of the plants providing their grocery stores with meat and poultry products.

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