Microbiology and Sanitation
FOOD safety is one of the most important issues in marketing any kind of food, and poultry meat is no exception. If consumers perceive that a product is unsafe, all other positive selling points (e.g., taste, price, nutritional value) become irrelevant. Overall, consumers have a healthy image of poultry products, even though there is some concern regarding raw poultry meat as a potential vehicle for certain foodborne diseases such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. As seen in Figure 11.1, the number of outbreaks of foodborne diseases in the United States associated with poultry is not proportionally higher than with other foods. In poultry, the two most common bacteria associated with foodborne diseases, Salmonella and Campylobacter, can result from cross contamination of raw and cooked products (e.g., using the same cutting board/knife to cut raw meat and cooked products) and undercooking of the meat. Both microorganisms can be present in the gut content or skin of healthy birds and might be carried onto the meat. Fortunately, both are heat sensitive (will be rapidly inactivated at about 65-70°C) and should not be transferred to humans if the meat is adequately handled. However, illnesses from each of these bacteria have an estimated annual incidence in the United States of up to 4 million cases (Bryan and Doyle, 1995). It is hard to obtain a precise estimate on the number of cases because most are mild and not reported. The annual rate (per 100,000 people) of four significant foodborne pathogens in the United States is shown in Figure 11.2. Still, this emphasizes the point that care should be taken in reducing potential contamination by all stakeholders. The industry is currently adopting a farm-to-fork philosophy where it is recognized that minimizing contamination requires all parties to participate. The process actually starts with the breeding stocks and continues through hatcheries, feed mills, farms, transportation trucks, processing plants, distribution channels and the consumer’s own kitchen. In some countries, such as Sweden, a massive Salmonella eradication program has been going on for a few decades, resulting in the virtual elimination of Salmonella in poultry meat. The program involves strict government controls and voluntary
measures by producers (e.g., elimination of Salmonella-positive flocks) but is very expensive to run (Persson and Jendteg, 1992). A few other countries (e.g., the Netherlands, Finland) are currently involved in extensive programs to reduce Salmonella; however, such programs are fairly expensive, and most countries have chosen to introduce some measures, but not all.