Salmonellosis as a Foodborne Disease

Salmonella is reported to be the most important food-borne pathogen in poultry meat being of public health interest worldwide. As a microbe, Salmonella causes Salmonellosis, which is among the most prevalent foodborne diseases globally. While there are numerous potential means of the bacteria transmission, consumption of chicken meat has been recognized as the most important one. In their mandate, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have conducted various risk assessments on Salmonella in chicken meat (Ao et al., 2015). They have offered an outline of the existing information on Salmonella and a risk assessment structure to enable the evaluation of various interventions aimed at addressing the risks associated with Salmonella in chicken meat at the point of consumption. Explicit data on the burden of Salmonellosis as a foodborne disease is limited, but it is considered significant and diverse providing a scope of control measures and practices implemented in the poultry meat production chain from the moment of primary production to final consumption.

The aim of the current paper is to examine the topic with the ultimate goal of understanding the existing scientific evidence on the control of Salmonella using appropriate measures. The paper will describe the industry, examine the sources of hazards, and study Salmonellosis as a foodborne disease caused by Salmonella. After that, the paper will evaluate quantitative aspects of risk reduction in the production, processing, and handling of meat in meat supply chains.

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Introduction

For the previous couple of years, Salmonella food poisoning has been classified one of the most common foodborne illnesses around the world. The disease is caused by a group of bacteria referred to as Salmonella and commonly found in the intestines of animals and birds. The bacteria are transmitted to people through the consumption of foods contaminated with animal or birds’ feces. As a rule, contaminated foods are of animal origin such as milk, beef, eggs, or poultry meat among others. A series of research has shown that chicken meat is the most important means through which Salmonella is transmitted to human beings (Ao et al., 2015). The primary aim of the following paper is to examine the issue of Salmonella presence in chicken meat.

Description of the Poultry Industry

The chicken industry is one of the most successful sectors in the agricultural production area. Over the previous half a century, the industry has evolved from a fragmented locally-oriented business into a highly efficient, vertically integrated, and advanced business increasingly supplying customers with chicken meat around the globe. Today’s chicken industry produces nutritious, wholesome, and high-quality products that become more and more affordable year after year. The industry is quickly advancing thanks to improved production and processing expertise and continuing awareness of consumer demands.

In the United States, the consumption of poultry meat, especially chicken, is higher than the consumption of beef or pork with average annual per person rate reaching up to 50 pounds (Belk et al., 2014). In Australia, the poultry meat industry accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s total livestock production. The typical animals used for the production of meat include chicken, turkeys, ducks, quail, pigeons, geese, pheasants, and guinea fowl among others. However, the chicken sector is the most dominant with the annual consumption of chicken meat approaching 90 pounds per person (Naughton, Mathai, Hryciw, & McAinch, 2015). In the United Kingdom, poultry meat accounts for about half of all meat consumed by the population, an amount that is almost equal to the rates of beef, pork, and lamb consumption. Chicken meat is the most dominant form of poultry meat produced by United Kingdom’s poultry production industry which accounts for over 70 percent (Magdelaine, Spiess, & Valceschini, 2008). Other species of poultry such as turkeys, geese, and ducks account for relatively smaller percentage. Judging from the rates of chicken consumption in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, it is apparent that chicken meat is consumed massively around the world.

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All countries around the world have a genetic poultry production supply chains consisting of four major stages. The first stage is the primary production that involves on-farm production and subsequent transportation to slaughter facilities. The second stage is processing. It entails such processes as slaughtering, processing, and value addition. The third stage involves retailing in which processed products are sold in wholesale and retail to supermarkets, restaurants, butcheries, and take away food outlets among others. The final stage is consumption in which chicken meat is handled by the consumers in home environments where it is cooked and consumed.

Foodborne Diseases Associated with Salmonella in Poultry Meat

Salmonellosis is the leading disease that affects people upon consuming chicken meat contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria.

Overview

Tens of millions of human cases are reported to have occurred worldwide on an annual basis. Even though most cases of Salmonellosis are moderate, this illness sometimes causes death (Kunwar, Singh, Mangla, & Hiremath, 2013). Between 2009 and 2010 in the United States, the Salmonella bacteria transmitted through chicken meat caused approximately 29,500 illnesses, 1,200 hospitalizations, and 23 deaths (Ao et al., 2015). These numbers could have been higher since not all cases were reported.

The Disease

Because the disease is zoonotic in nature, foods that are made from animals have been consistently implicated as the leading sources of human salmonellosis. There are two types of Salmonella, namely Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori (Siriken, Türk, Yildirim, Durupinar, & Erol, 2015). The Salmonella enterica is, however, the most dangerous because about 99 percent of human pathogens belong specifically to this category (Bailey & Cosby, 2005). Whenever people consume Salmonella-positive chicken meat, they are likely to develop symptoms of salmonellosis no later than three days after ingestion of Salmonella (Ao et al., 2015). The disease lasts between two and seven days. As a rule, the symptoms of salmonellosis are relatively mild and range from mild gastroenteritis to chronic diseases such as septicemia and other long-term conditions. Patients may recover without necessarily taking medications (Ao et al., 2015). Nevertheless, in some cases, especially young and elderly patients may suffer from dehydration that can be life-threatening and even fatal. Even though salmonellosis outbreaks attract enormous media attention, hundreds of thousands of all salmonellosis cases are not recognized and are thus not diagnosed.

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Sources of Hazards Associated with Salmonella in Poultry Meat

The Salmonella bacteria may end up in chicken meat, and thus in the human body in a variety of ways. The first source of the Salmonella bacteria is domestic and wild animals. Salmonella is widely found in domestic animals such as cattle, pigs, and poultry. The bacteria are also found in pets such as birds, cats, and dogs, and in reptiles such as turtles. Chicken products contaminated by the above categories of animals are likely to contain the Salmonella bacteria (Ao et al., 2015). The second source of Salmonella bacteria is the whole food chain from primary production to households where through a range of chemical and microbial hazards poultry meat can be contaminated with the bacteria during the primary production phase (Fearnley, Raupach, Lagala, & Cameron, 2011). This includes bacterial pathogens through contaminated feed, water, and the environment. In the processing stage, microbiological hazards can affect poultry meat unintentionally. These can grow to potentially dangerous levels through direct contamination by food handlers and contaminated equipment, inadequate handling, and processing operations as well as processing environment (Wu, Alali, Harrison, & Hofacre, 2014). Ultimately, the Salmonella gets into human bodies through the consumption of chicken products, especially meat. The handling and preparation processes in households may cause contamination when raw or cooked meat gets into contact with affected surfaces.

Treatment

The treatment process in severe cases is symptomatic. An electrolyte replacement process may be conducted by providing electrolytes such as chloride ions, potassium, and sodium, which are lost through vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, the young and elderly patients may require antimicrobial therapies.

Risk Factor for Salmonella Prevalence on Chicken

Various risk factors are related to the prevalence of Salmonella in chicken farms. These risk factors can be categorized into different groups depending on whether they influence vertical or horizontal transmission of Salmonella. First, it is important to analyze risk factors associated with vertical transmission. In this context, vertical transmission refers to the infections that are directly transmitted from one bird to another.

The first risk factor entails great grandparent chicken (Corry, Allen, Hudson, Breslin, & Davies, 2002). When the parent chickens are infected with Salmonella, future generations are also likely to be infected through eggs. The control measure in this case involves sanitizing eggs immediately after they are laid. Besides, all Salmonella-positive birds and their eggs should be quarantined (Guard-Petter, 2001).

The second risk factor is related to breeder farms. When the equipment used for breeding is contaminated, Salmonella is likely to be transmitted to new breeds (Kaushik, Kumari, Bharti, & Dayal, 2014). Similarly, when eggs used in breeding are infected, the resultant chickens are also likely to be contaminated, and thus the chances of spreading Salmonella among birds are high.

Secondly, it is important to analyze the risk factors for horizontal transmission. In this context, horizontal transmission means infections transmitted to birds on different farms and not within the same environment. The first risk factor is pests such as flea, wild animals, and darkling beetles (Corry et al., 2002). When these pests migrate from one farm to another, chances of a clean flock getting infected with Salmonella are high. These risk factors can be eliminated by means of uncontaminated litter and cleaning of resting sheds. The second risk factor is contaminated feed. Usually, food and water additives can contain contaminants, which are passed on to birds through feeding (Tsen et al., 2013). Using heat treatment and other related methods, as well as careful sourcing can ensure that birds are fed with only clean foods free from the Salmonella bacteria.

The final risk factor is previously contaminated flock or sheds. As a rule, sheds that have been previously used to house infected flocks can contain remnants of Salmonella, which can be quickly transmitted among other birds (Swanson et al., 2007). Similarly, formerly infected birds may contain traces of the Salmonella bacteria, which can infect other birds.

Features of Chicken Meat Production and Processing Systems and Implications on Salmonella Prevalence

There exist many regional differences in commercial chicken meat production. However, research shows that a substantial part of the chicken meat production at industry levels has some common features. Firstly, it has been observed that breeding varieties used worldwide are mass-produced by a small number of companies, which implies that these companies sell them to buyers globally (Moore, Merryman, Hartman, & Klingborg, 2008). As such, chances of a wide-scale spread of Salmonella are high if the breeding stocks distributed are infected. It thus appears that there is a need to control Salmonella presence in the breeder flocks.

Secondly, chicken production and processing systems show trends of production becoming more integrated in the future in which fewer bigger farms are replacing numerous smaller farms (Moore et al., 2008). Today, the United States and Russia have already started an integrated poultry production where producers control feeding, rearing, and processing. These measures can help to control the transmission of Salmonella.

Thirdly, commercial chicken production systems in different countries are broadly standardized, which means that it is easy to develop modular risk assessments focused on shared food chain characteristics (East, 2007). Besides, these systems provide for broad-spectrum inputs with significant variations. Ultimately, efficient control measures can be taken to prevent the transmission of Salmonella from flocks to people through the raw chicken meat.

Possible Interventions for Hazard Reduction

Primary Production Stage

Control methods applied in primary production are significant in controlling Salmonella throughout the production process. The leading intervention involves a blend of biosecurity and workforce hygiene measures. These refer to all management practices that are followed collectively to reduce the chances of introducing or spreading Salmonella in poultry farms (Moore et al., 2008). There are different sources of contamination, which can range from chicken themselves, people, vehicles, and equipment among others. In general, biosecurity programs consist of various control measures as discussed below.

The first measure entails a controlled introduction of chicken flocks, litter, water, and feed. All flocks should be sourced from trustworthy suppliers that have ratified quality guarantees and vaccination programs. All chicken to be introduced should be well checked to make sure that they are Salmonella-negative, and thus, the chances of vertical transmission are small (East, 2007). Similarly, all feed and litter should be sourced from approved sources that are not likely to be contaminated with the salmonella bacteria. The second measure is controlled access. All means of access to the farm and shed where birds are housed should be limited. Only clean equipment and tools, as well as people, should be allowed to enter the farms. If the individuals and birds move from one farm to another, care should be taken to ensure that biosecurity risks are low (Conan, Goutard, Sorn, & Vong, 2012). If possible, poultry farms should be situated away from other poultry farms, abattoirs, livestock operations, and other potential sources of contamination.

The third measure under this category involves exclusion of wild birds and other animals. This can be achieved through thorough cleaning of food spills and closing of doors when not in use (Moore et al., 2008). Such a measure would protect healthy chicken from being contaminated with Salmonella from other potential sources. The fourth measure entails implementing pest control programs to get rid of rodents, beetles, and flies. If not eliminated, these can be ideal means for salmonella transmission between birds.

The fifth measure entails general hygiene. All tools such as transport crates, equipment such as feeders and drinkers, and containers should be cleaned and disinfected before use (Moore et al., 2008). All dead and cull birds should be disposed of using approved methods. Besides, all tools such as feeders should be made in such a way as to reduce contamination of the chicken. The final measure entails staff training. All workers on a farm should be trained on appropriate biosecurity procedures. Other useful measures at the primary production stage include the use of vaccines, feed additives, and competitive exclusion (East, 2007).

Processing Stage

The contamination of chicken meat is highly dependent on the status of the birds before being slaughtered and hygiene conditions during the processing phase. If chicken is contaminated before slaughtering, it might be difficult to complete processing without some contamination. Each of the processing stages, which include stun and slaughter, scalding, feathering, washing, evisceration, chilling, and packaging, is prone to contamination in one way or another (El-Aziz, 2013). Various interventions and measures can be implemented to reduce the risks of Salmonella contamination.

The first measure entails the provision of adequate information in a timely manner for all flocks intended for slaughter (McEntire, Acheson, Siemens, Eilert, & Robach, 2014). When flocks are received, they should be accompanied with supplier statements or guarantees containing information on birds’ health, for instance, in relation to the use of veterinary drugs. Such information would facilitate optimal slaughter and processing procedures. If flocks are identified to be positive for Salmonella, they should be presented for slaughter in ways that would minimize cross-contamination as much as possible.

The second measure entails subjecting all flocks to antemortem inspection. Such a step ensures that all moribund, unhealthy, or otherwise unsuitable poultry are not processed. If some birds are dead upon arrival, the relevant responsible persons such as farmers, transportation companies, and veterinary officers should be notified so as to take appropriate preventive and collective actions (Conan et al., 2012). The final measure is the use of chemicals such as peracetic acid, chlorine, acidified sodium chlorite, mono-chloramine, and weak acids among others. These are used to disinfect contact surfaces on chicken processing plants (McEntire et al., 2014). Most of these chemicals are affordable, effective, and safe. They will help to eliminate the Salmonella bacteria by up to 90 percent.

Handling and Preparation Stage

There are various recommendations through which consumers of chicken meat can prevent Salmonella infection.

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The first recommendation is cleanliness.

Poultry meat consumers are advised to wash their hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling any raw poultry (Corry et al., 2002). Besides, they should ensure that all utensils used in the preparation of poultry such as wash utensils, dishes, cutting boards, and countertops are washed with warm soapy water after cooking each meal and before cooking the next. All food contact surfaces should be sanitized with chlorinated water. Moreover, they should take precautions not to wash raw chicken before cooking as this would increase the chances of infecting other foods, surfaces, and utensils with Salmonella.

The second recommendation entails separation.

It is advisable that raw chicken meat is separated from other foods in a grocery shop or a refrigerator. If possible, the cutting boards for raw poultry should be separated from those used for fresh products and other foods (Bailey & Cosby, 2005). Likewise, utensils that previously contained raw poultry should not be used to place cooked foods.

The third recommendation revolves around cooking methods.

Consumers should cook poultry at a safe minimum internal temperature of about 74oC (Bailey & Cosby, 2005). Similarly, retailers of cooked poultry should hold it at the same internal temperatures or higher as measured with a food thermometer. The final recommendation entails chilling (Corry et al., 2002). All raw chicken meat should be chilled promptly and correctly in refrigerators or freezers. All remaining meat should be refrigerated as soon as possible.

Conclusion

The paper primarily examined the topic of Salmonella in chicken meat. Research showed that the Salmonella bacteria are a cause of a disease called Salmonellosis, which is reported to be the most frequently occurring foodborne illness. The disease is associated with millions of illnesses, thousands of hospitalizations, and hundreds of deaths annually. The numbers are particularly high due to the fact that chicken meat has gradually become a preferred delicacy for an increasingly high number of people worldwide.

The Salmonella bacteria are passed from poultry to human beings through foods of animal origin such as beef, poultry, eggs, milk, and pork, but the transmission of bacteria is more commonly related to the chicken meat consumption. Several risk factors exist for the prevalence of the Salmonella bacteria between flocks, and from flocks to people. These include infected flock and shed, contaminated feed, contaminated great grandparents, pests, and biosecurity factors. These factors may cause contamination at each of the four stages of the chicken meat production chain, namely primary production, processing, retailing, and consumption.

Various preventive measures can be used to control the spread of Salmonella. These include biosecurity and general hygiene, as well as precautions taken during processing and cooking. Taking the necessary precautions would result in the reduction of the rates of Salmonellosis, which has become an issue of public health interest worldwide.