The only increase was seen in ground beef, where a slight increase in salmonella rates increased.
The figures for testing done in January to March 2006 were released by the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). In February 2006, FSIS announced several changes to the agency's salmonella testing program, including a faster reporting of results to detect problems quicker.
With outbreaks of food borne diseases featuring more prominently in the media, the processing industry is under regulatory and consumer pressure to ensure the better safety of their products.
Future FSIS testing will incorporate sampling of turkey carcasses and increase testing frequency at plants with process-control problems.
The change to the testing program is part of the FSIS' bid to reduce Salmonella in raw meat and poultry products. FSIS figures from previous quarters had indicated recent spike in Salmonella cases at processing plants.
"Our goal is to work proactively to reduce the presence of salmonella on raw products before plants develop a pattern of poor performance," USDA under secretary for food safety
Richard Raymond stated in February. "FSIS will more quickly report testing results and target establishments needing improvement, providing timely information to both consumers and industry."
The data for the first quarter 2006 shows the salmonella rate in broiler chicken carcase samples fell to 12 per cent in the first quarter 2006 from 14.5 per cent in the last quarter of 2005.
Rates for hog carcasses fell to 3.8 per cent from 4.6 per cent over the same periods. salmonella in cow and bull carcasses fell to 0.3 per cent from 1.2 per cent. No salmonella was detected in steer and heifer samples, compared to 0.2 per cent rate found in the fourth quarter 2004.
The rate of salmonella rose in ground beef to 1.3 per cent from 1.1 per cent. In ground chicken the rate fell to 50 per cent from 62.5 per cent.
The FSIS increased the number of samples it tested for both ground beef and chicken in the first quarter compared to the previous quarter. Sampling for all other categories decreased over the same period.
Meanwhile salmonella rates in ground turkey fell to 21.9 per cent from 29.7 per cent.Earlier this year the FSIS released figures showing that
Samples in broilers, ground chicken and ground turkey testing positive for salmonella at US slaughter and processing plants have surged since 2002, according to statistics released earlier this year by the FSIS.
Broilers had the highest rates of salmonella, with 16.3 per cent of samples testing positive in 2005, up from 11.5 per cent in 2002. The highest level was reached in 1998, when salmonella was found in 20 per cent of the broilers sampled.
The FSIS plans to concentrating its testing at plants with higher levels of Salmonella. The unit will also make changes to the reporting and use of the FSIS' Salmonella verification test results.
The effort will be modelled on the successful FSIS program to reduce the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef. The FSIS E. coli O157:H7 program led to a 40 per cent reduction in human illnesses associated with the pathogen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Central to the E. coli O157:H7 model's success was a collective acknowledgement by industry that this food safety hazard needed to be addressed in all their food safety systems," Raymond stated.
Certain serotypes of Salmonella, which are known to cause human illness, are commonly found in raw meat and poultry. Other food sources, such as produce and eggs, are also known to cause salmonellosis.
Where FSIS has performed food safety assessments at plants that have persistently poor performance records for controlling Salmonella, there has been a dramatic reduction in the levels of the pathogen, the agency stated.
The USDA's "Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (PR/HACCP)" rule, implemented July 25, 1996, established salmonella performance standards for the first time in seven categories of raw meat and poultry products: broilers; market hogs; cows/bulls; steers/heifers; ground beef; ground chicken; and ground turkey.
FSIS collects and analyzes Salmonella samples as one part of food safety verification system and publishes the data annually in aggregate form.
According to the strategy, which is described in a Federal Register notice published February 27, FSIS will now provide the results of its salmonella performance standard testing to establishments as soon as they become available sample-by-sample.
"This will enable establishments to more readily identify and respond to needed process control in the slaughter-dressing operation," the FSIS stated. "Receiving individual sample results soon after the samples are taken will help establishments in their assessment of whether their slaughter dressing procedures are adequate for pathogen reduction."
Previously plants received results after the sample set is completed. For broilers a sample set consists of 51 consecutive days of sampling.
FSIS will also begin quarterly posting on its Web site of the nationwide aggregate results of all sample results to give consumers more complete information about salmonella trends.