Low levels of high-risk salmonella evade traditional methods of detection: New technology can detect more strains, which could help poultry industry produce safer chickens

Poultry is responsible for more than one out of every five cases of salmonella infection in the U.S. But traditional methods of testing the chicken you grab off the grocery shelf may not be enough to detect all strains of the bacteria, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

Published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the study analyzed national salmonella data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service from 2016 to 2020.

The researchers found that overall cases of salmonella contamination in chicken decreased from 9% in 2016 to 6.57% in 2020. But nationally, the cases of salmonella infection in people have remained stable during this same period.

“When I first started at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center four years ago and met with several different poultry companies, one of the things they said to me was that the salmonella they find on the farms is not the same type of salmonella they find in the processing plant,” said Nikki Shariat, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

That disconnect makes it challenging for the poultry industry to know which types of salmonella to target with new vaccines and other interventions that can reduce the amount of high-risk types of salmonella in the birds.

The researchers partnered with the Georgia Poultry Lab Network in Gainesville, Georgia, to examine what strains of salmonella, known as serotypes, were present in breeder chickens versus the strains present in chicken products.

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