Mindy Brashears was Under Secretary for Food Safety in late 2020 when USDA’s Office of Food Safety (OFS) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released a plan to decrease Salmonella with an approach that would be science-based, data-driven, and promote innovation to reduce the pathogen in meat, poultry, and egg products.
“This roadmap represents FSIS’ commitment to lead with science and data in everything we do. It puts us on a course to aggressively target Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens,” she said. “I look forward to continued partnership with the food safety community in driving a science-based approach to protecting public health.”
Brashears left the government a few weeks later when the new administration took over. During the next two years, Brashears returned to Texas Tech University, where she won TTU’s highest faculty honors and was named VP for Research. FSIS continued to act on the 2020 framework with a determination to declare Salmonella an adulterant in breaded stuffed raw chicken products when they exceed a very low level of Salmonella contamination.
At the recent Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing, and Live Production, Brashears suggested that USDA’s approach may be too broad to reduce Salmonella. She said the poultry industry should focus on the pathogenic Salmonella serotypes — those causing human illnesses — not all Salmonella.
“The industry can obtain scientific data faster than FSIS and should lead the way,” she said. FSIS is not a research agency that exists to enforce public policy.
Brashears says the FSIS leadership that came after her also believes that the current approach to Salmonella is not reducing infections from the pathogen.
Sampling data has shown some progress in reducing Salmonella contamination in poultry.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that salmonella is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. and finds poultry contributes to the highest percentage of those outbreaks.
Brashears, however, questions the attribution data that is electronically picked up from local, state, and tribal public health agencies. She suggests people may be too quick to blame poultry products because chicken and Salmonella have become synonymous in the public mind. Brashears says that may be creating a “bias in the data.”
She said that while serving as Undersecretary. For Food Safety, Brashears noticed that some outbreaks of Salmonella in poultry might involve hundreds with only a handful of confirmed cases.