USDA Hiding Meat-Poultry
Plants' Salmonella Results
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department said Thursday it would not publish the results of salmonella tests that are being conducted at U.S. meat and poultry plants as part of the department's new food safety procedures. Consumer groups had argued the test data should be made publicly available on the USDA's web site so shoppers could find out if any processing plants were having recurring problems with salmonella.
In January, the USDA began conducting salmonella tests at large U.S. meat and poultry plants to check they were taking steps to reduce contamination by salmonella and other pathogens. The tests will be introduced at smaller plants by the year 2000. Salmonella is the most common bacterial cause of illness carried by food in the United States. More than 9,000 Americans die each year from unsafe food, and millions more fall ill, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said the public could obtain test results for a specific meat processing plant by submitting a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act. Federal agencies typically take several weeks or months to process such requests. The USDA said it would give test results to each plant after a full sampling was analyzed. But the department said it had ''no specific plans'' to post the salmonella data on its Internet web pages.
The USDA also promised to publish an annual report on its salmonella testing program but said it had not yet decided on the contents or format.
``Individual test results are not meaningful under this program because the performance standards have been established to measure performance over time,'' the USDA said in a Federal Register notice. ``Multiple samples are required to make an appropriate compliance determination.''
If a meat or poultry plant fails a series of three salmonella sample tests, the USDA said it will halt federal inspections at the plant, effectively shutting it down. The USDA also said it scheduled a three-day public meeting beginning May 12 to discuss meat and poultry inspection and

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