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Nationwide Hunt Starts For Chicken Microbes

By Jill Lee
November 3, 1997

Scientists are beginning a nationwide bacteria-hunt to learn where chicken pathogens can get their start at the farm, so they can be stopped before reaching consumers.

The year-long study will sample farms in each of the nation’s top poultry-producing areas--Arkansas, California, Georgia, Mississippi and the Delmarva peninsula of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

The scientists, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, will focus on 10 broiler production farms. On each farm, they will take samples from 25 places to find out which places are likely to transmit food pathogens. Feed bins, hatcheries and even farmers’ boot soles will be sampled.

DNA tests will distinguish the bacteria present in each of the 25 sample sites. The scientists will piece together this information to determine which sites are top candidates for extra contamination control. Five top poultry producers have invited the ARS scientists to comb their farms for this project, the largest of its kind in the United States.

The survey could provide a national picture of where and possibly how poultry contamination may begin. It could also supply poultry producers with a new way to track and control bacterial risks.

Scientists at ARS’ Poultry Microbiological Safety Research Unit in Athens, Ga., will coordinate a team of microbiologists, technicians and computer experts at the ARS lab. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is helping to fund the project.

Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria are two of the worst poultry food-safety concerns. They can enter the food supply at any time--in the farm hatchery or the consumer’s kitchens. Studies indicated Salmonella may infect 25 percent of processed poultry carcasses; Campylobacter may infect up to 90 percent. Proper cooking and handling is the best protection.

Project leader microbiologist Norm Stern will discuss the project at a National Broiler Council meeting in mid-November.