Trade groups, regulators, academics, consumer groups involved

Walmart’s campaign to improve poultry safety, Part 2: Stakeholder engagement

By Heidi Parsons

- Last updated on GMT

Companies that supply Walmart and Sam's Club stores with fresh or frozen raw poultry products will need to meet stricter microbiological standards by June 2016.
Companies that supply Walmart and Sam's Club stores with fresh or frozen raw poultry products will need to meet stricter microbiological standards by June 2016.

Related tags Food safety Foodborne illness

Part 1 of this article described the strengthened poultry safety program Walmart has announced. Part 2 discusses how the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other organizations have agreed to support the program.

In developing its enhanced poultry safety program, with which suppliers must comply by June 2016, Walmart officials took care to set the bar high but not insurmountable.

Toward that end, Walmart invited numerous groups to review the program. “We’ve consulted and collaborated with a broad range of stakeholders including our poultry suppliers and trade associations such as the National Chicken Council and the Poultry Federation,”​ Frank Yiannas, Walmart’s VP of food safety, told FoodProductionDaily.

“We’ve also consulted with academics at the University of Georgia, Texas A&M, University of Arkansas, Mississippi State University, and other institutions. We’ve collaborated with regulatory officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Department of Agriculture, the UK’s Food Standards Agency, and New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries.”

“We’ve also involved consumer groups such as Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America,”​ Yiannas said.

CDC commitment

Beyond providing input on the program’s rigorous requirements, the CDC has agreed to partner with Walmart to implement the poultry safety initiative.

“CDC, along with Walmart, recognizes that reducing Salmonella and other pathogen contamination in poultry products is a crucial step towards decreasing the burden of foodborne illnesses,”​ said Dr Chris Braden, director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “Walmart and CDC working together to protect public health and advance food safety is a great example of a public-private partnership that benefits everyone.”

CDC headquarters
CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

“CDC’s partnership, input, and involvement on this initiative has been invaluable,” ​Yiannas said. “CDC’s food safety team has rich insight into the pathogen-food product combinations most often implicated in foodborne disease in this country, as well as the most common contributing factors of foodborne illness.”

“As the ultimate scorekeeper of the nation’s battle against foodborne disease — and since the benefits of this initiative will extend beyond our customers — CDC’s continued involvement will be crucial to measure the affect this initiative has on reducing the burden of poultry-related foodborne illness in the US,”​ he added.

No ivory towers here

In addition to its partnership with CDC, Walmart has enlisted a number of universities as active participants in the program. They will play a key role in the third and fourth points of the four-point plan Yiannas described in Part 1​ of this article.

Point 1 requires poultry suppliers to source from primary breeders who participate in USDA’s National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). A voluntary USDA program, the NPIP involves testing chicks for certain strains of Salmonella, implementing preventive and corrective actions, and retesting to see if those actions were effective.

Point 2 asks suppliers to vaccinate poultry flocks in which Salmonella is detected, and adhere to disease prevention best practices (bio-security and vector control) at the broiler farm level.

Point 3 involves applying Salmonella control measures during primary (whole bird) processing. Point 4 requires suppliers to use additional control interventions to chicken parts after the birds leave the chiller, after cut-up of whole chickens, and before parts are packaged.

“The first two points will involve checks of records during audits and visits​,” Yiannas said. “The last two points involve our suppliers conducting microbial validation studies (or specialized microbial tests).”

“The validations will be submitted to poultry safety experts at various universities for review and approval. These experts will determine if the validations meet our requirements and if they were conducted in a scientifically credible manner.”

If a supplier makes any changes to its process, validations have to be conducted again, Yiannas added.

“Walmart’s implementation of enhanced safety measures for poultry products provides leadership for the food industry and continues a progressive approach to providing the safest possible food,” ​Dr Gary Acuff, director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Food Safety, said in a news release. “This is a smart, science-supported move that will greatly benefit consumers.”

Related topics Food safety & quality

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