The swelter of summer may push us indoors for most of the day, but come dinnertime, the heat of the kitchen kicks us back out. But grilling isn’t guaranteed to be safe, and in preparation for the summer months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced its plans to ramp up Salmonella testing to improve safeguards.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has already implemented strategies to identify raw ground beef tainted with E. coli (Escherichia coli). But given the outstanding threat of Salmonella contamination — most recently in January 2013 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced infection in six states — the FSIS has decided to broaden its pathogen testing to include Salmonella each time an E. coli test is also carried out.
“Because the samples taken for E. coli testing are much larger than those we have taken in the past for Salmonella, there is higher likelihood that we will be able to detect the bacteria if it is present,” the USDA said in a statement.
Salmonella is estimated to cause about 1.2 million illnesses each year in the U.S. This results in roughly 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths, according to the CDC. While not all cases of Salmonella infection, better known as salmonellosis, result in a trip to the emergency room, symptoms can typically last anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after infection. Avoiding the foodborne illness requires cooking all ground beef to at least 160 degrees and poultry to 165 degrees.
According to the USDA, Salmonella stands as the “most urgent issue facing FSIS” when it comes to protecting consumers. Improving their standards for ground beef processing will ultimately come from better data collection on how beef is contaminated. As a result of this urgency, the agency has developed their Salmonella Action Plan, which details in 10 steps how the USDA plans to conquer the foodborne illness over the next couple years. These measures include strengthening sanitary conditions, educating consumers, and developing better enforcement strategies, among others.
The USDA encourages all consumers who want to learn more about Salmonella and how to prevent its ingestion during the upcoming summer months, to “check out FoodSafety.gov or AskKaren.gov before your next cook out.”