Research on salmonella in the poultry industry may result in safer food for consumers

Athens, Ga. ֖ A team of researchers in the newly-formed Department of Population Health at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine has launched a study to determine how to eliminate salmonella bacteria from the poultry production process.

“What we’re trying to do is trace salmonella through the food chain, so we can identify at what point in the poultry industry we can introduce intervention measures most effectively,” said John Maurer, associate professor of population health and head of the research team. “Knowing where the salmonella comes from is important so that we can
reduce its transmission to the final product that the consumer eats.”

“This research will become a landmark study that will provide the basic understanding of the spread of salmonella,” said John Glisson, head, population health. “This is an important indicator of the prominent role that UGA has taken in food safety research in this country.”

The problem is that in chickens and many other animals salmonella rarely causes illness. Adult chickens can be carriers of the bacteria and yet appear perfectly healthy.

“If we know that the majority of the contamination is going on in the breeder flocks, we can come up with intervention strategies to keep it from spreading to the offspring,”
Maurer said. “If we know that it is acquired on the broiler farm then we know that we have to clean that farm and prevent reintroduction on that farm.”

Approximately 600 deaths are attributed to acute salmonella infection each year. More than 40,000 cases are reported each year, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of actual infections is much higher.

Most individual cases and outbreaks of salmonella are caused by not cooking meat thoroughly enough. Secondary causes include cross-contamination from raw meat to cooked or prepared foods or improper refrigeration of foods that allows bacteria time to grow.

In most adults, salmonella infections can clear up on their own. But when the bacteria infect children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems, the infection
frequently requires intervention with antibiotics. It also can cause more serious problems like blood poisoning. Eliminating the bacteria from the food supply chain in the
poultry industry would result in safer food for consumers.

Funded by an $890,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the research team, in addition to Maurer, includes Charles Hofacre, professor, population
health, UGA College of Veterinary Medicine; Michael P. Doyle, director, Center for Food Safety; Dana Cole, medical epidemiologist, Georgia Division of Public Health.
The grant also will fund positions for several graduate students at the veterinary college who will handle the data analysis.

“The USDA recognizes the importance of this work and has identified Dr. Maurer and his research collaborators as a team that can accomplish this very complex research plan,” said Glisson.