Testing data spans March 28, 2021 to March 26, 2022 , and is from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The human illness data is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network.
“High-risk” salmonella types more commonly cause people to get sick and are on the CDC’s list of the top 30 serotypes associated with human illnesses. “Low-risk” salmonella types are those that are not on this list and are rarely linked to illness in the United States.
The “high-risk positivity rate” is equal to the total number of samples that tested positive for high-risk types of salmonella divided by the number of total samples taken over the 52-week period. For purposes of comparison, we divided plants into three equal-sized groups — those where high-risk salmonella was found less often, about as often, or more often than at other plants — for each type of poultry they process. Plants that had no high-risk salmonella were always included in the lowest group.
Samples labeled “antibiotic-resistant” had salmonella found to be resistant to antibiotic drugs classified as “Important,” “Highly Important” or “Critically Important” to human medicine by the FDA. Antibiotic-resistant salmonella is harder to treat.
We describe a plant as “Small” when its monthly processing volume of meat and poultry is less than 100,000 pounds, while “Medium” facilities process between 100,000 pounds and 10 million pounds, and “Large” facilities process more than 10 million pounds.
The USDA runs salmonella surveillance sampling for five types of raw poultry: young whole chickens, young whole turkeys, chicken parts (including thighs, legs, wings and breasts), ground chicken and ground turkey. Ground poultry categories include poultry that is “ground, chopped, flaked” or “minced.”
The USDA does not run a salmonella sampling program for turkey parts. Turkey parts make up a low volume of poultry processed in the U.S., and the USDA found a low volume of salmonella in turkey parts during the 2012 baseline testing it used to establish salmonella thresholds. The USDA has separate sampling programs for pre-cooked products (including chicken nuggets and strips).
For plants where one type of poultry was sampled relatively infrequently during the 52-week period, the USDA removes one positive sample from the salmonella rate calculation when determining whether the plant met or failed the standard. This means that a small number of plants with salmonella levels that are just above the threshold will still be considered to have met the standard.
Your likelihood of getting sick depends on many factors, including: how the poultry is cooked and handled; your immune system; and the quantity and types of salmonella present. “High-risk” salmonella strains are more likely to cause illness than “low-risk” types. According to the CDC, if you avoid cross-contamination and cook the poultry to 165°F, the meat should be safe to eat even if it had high-risk salmonella. Learn more about safe handling and cooking techniques from the CDC.