RED DEER — Salmonella enteritidis is a leading cause of food poisoning in Canada and investigations often trace the source of bacteria to chicken products.
A salmonella surveillance program for Canadian chicken farms started in January of this year but more monitoring is needed through all parts of the supply chain, from hatcheries to kitchens. Salmonella enteritidis is the target but it is one of 2,300 types. It does not harm the birds but can make people ill.
The breeding and hatching sectors have been working to reduce the salmonella risk, yet illness persists even with strict on-farm food safety programs and consumer education.
“Consumers need to be reminded safe food handling is key to ensuring that food-borne illness does not become an issue,” said Michael LaLiberte, executive director of Chicken Farmers of Canada.
Various interventions are used from the hatchery to the processor but the level of illness has been increasing since 1988, said Victoria Sikur of Canadian Hatching Eggs Producers.
In the United States, the level of human illness is not as high as Canada.
“The answers are not crystal clear, but we do know there are differences between Canada and the U.S. We know there are differences in our industries,” said Sikur in a presentation to the Alberta Hatching Eggs Producers annual meeting in Red Deer Feb. 25.
The U.S. is more vertically integrated so company policies like disease control are instigated from top to bottom. In Canada, there is more individual ownership of farms, as well as differences in climate and geography. There is also variability among the provinces.
Cases may be under-reported in the U.S., but regardless of the reasons public health officials have said this higher incidence of sickness requires action.
Industry groups are working with Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency to develop a national surveillance program.
The goal is to reduce reports of sickness to 2006-07 levels. The 2017 incidence rates were 8.93 cases per 100,000 people compared to 5.36 cases per 100,000 people 10 years earlier.
Whole genome sequencing was introduced in 2017 for testing and analysis of listeria, salmonella and shiga toxin producing E coli.
Full genome sequencing of salmonella showed poultry was often the cause of illness whether it was recovered from a farm, processing plant or retail outlets.
“Whole genome sequencing actually allows us to narrow down the source of an outbreak,” she said.
“We do know there are outbreaks from other areas like rodents or handling pet turtles.”
In May 2019, an outbreak was attributed to raw breaded chicken nuggets. New CFIA rules said processors must ensure all raw breaded chicken products have below detectable levels of salmonella.
In 2010, a national symposium due to rising Salmonella enteritidis levels resulted in a committee to form a national strategy. It was released in 2014.
The overall intention was to control poultry-related Salmonella enteritidis cases in people. It called for more and better surveillance because current programs are piecemeal. Data needs to be integrated so it is known what is happening from the hatchery to the consumer.
Salmonella enteritidis prevalence reports are also needed for broiler breeders, broiler chicks, poults, chickens, turkeys and poultry meat.
Ultimately, there is no concrete agreement for a national salmonella program and response plan but participants agree a national approach is needed.