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U.S. Says Salmonella Declining in Raw Meat

November 24, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal inspectors are finding less meat contaminated with salmonella, the leading cause of food poisoning, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Monday.

She said inspectors found salmonella in just 3.6 percent of raw meat and poultry sampled in 2003 _ the lowest rate in six years,

The findings reflect the rate that tens of thousands of random samples from meat and poultry plants tested positive for the bacterium through October. They also show continued decline in the rate of salmonella found since a government meat safety program began under the Clinton administration in 1998.

The rate was 4.29 percent in 2002; 5.03 percent in 2001; 5.31 percent, 2000; 7.26 percent, 1999; and 10.65 percent, 1998, the department said.

Veneman said the trend _ a cumulative drop of 66 percent from the rate six years ago _ showed ``strong, science-based enforcement of food safety rules is continuing to pay off.″

The program, started in January 1998, requires inspectors to check compliance by food plants that come up with plans for preventing products from being infected by salmonella and E. coli, another harmful bacteria that can cause food-poisoning.

Salmonella, found particularly on raw meat, eggs, dairy products and seafood, can cause salmonellosis, an illness that can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. It is blamed each year for hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations.

The Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group, said, though, that government assurances about food safety are unreliable, due to testing delays and selective data.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group, wrote Veneman last week, faulting her agency because it ``has all but stopped testing turkeys for salmonella″ by dropping inspections from 38 plants last year to just one turkey producer this year.

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On the Net:

Agriculture Department: http://www.usda.gov

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