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Deadly Salmonella NOT Illegal In Foods

Two weeks ago Rawesome Foods was raided for supplying raw dairy on the same day that the nation’s largest ground turkey recall was announced. A frequently heard comment on Facebook and the blogosphere that day went something like this, “You mean that raw dairy which has not tested positive for any pathogens or made anyone sick is considered so dangerous that they have to arrest three people and destroy an entire food buying club’s inventory, but that millions of pounds of drug-resistant salmonella contaminated turkey meat gets a voluntary recall months after the meat not only made people sick but actually killed somebody?”

The comments express a communal outrage at the disproportionate response by our government. After all, three people spent the night in jail and are facing felony charges because they chose to distribute (safe!) raw milk. Meanwhile, absolutely nobody faces any criminal or civil charges for killing someone with salmonella. Why is that?

Because deadly, drug-resistant salmonella is not illegal in raw meat.

You read right. The way the law in the U.S. currently stands, 49.9% of samples in a test run can be positive for salmonella, and absolutely no one will bat an eyelash. Furthermore, the USDA is impotent to actually force a recall when salmonella is discovered.

From a recent Wired article about the recall:

But the biggest revelation may have been that, in strict legal terms, there may have been no wrongdoing in the distribution via turkey of the drug-resistant strain that has killed one person and sickened 78 — because Salmonella, the organism in question, is not classified by the federal government as something that is illegal to distribute.

In food-safety regulation, there’s a concept called “adulterant”, a substance that by law may not be distributed in food. When you hear the word, what springs to mind is probably Upton Sinclair-style additives such as sawdust and plaster. But foodborne disease organisms can be adulterants also. The best-known is undoubtedly E. coli O157, which was declared an adulterant in 1994, one year after the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak that killed 4 children and put 171 in the hospital.

Salmonella, though, is not an adulterant. The federal government has never named it one, despite pleas from nonprofit organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which in May filed a petition with the USDA that specifically asked for drug-resistant Salmonella — the organism in this outbreak — to be declared an adulterant so that extra preventative steps could be authorized according to law. The USDA has not acted on the request.

The way the meat industry sees it, salmonella in raw meat is “natural” and “unavoidable” and it’s our job as consumers to properly handle and cook the meat to eliminate any threat of illness.

This couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, large-scale industrial turkey and chicken farms are a breeding ground for salmonella (and particularly drug-resistant salmonella), but this is not the only choice we consumers have.

We can turn to pastured poultry. Not only are birds free to roam through green grass pastures (a privilege even “organic” and “free-range” hens don’t enjoy), but they also get plenty of sunshine (AKA “nature’s disinfectant”). They get to eat bugs and larvae, peck through manure, and generally get to express their inherent “chickenness” unlike their de-beaked, force-molted, antibiotic-fed, confined industrial counterparts.

And when raised in accordance with nature, these birds are not-so-surprisingly disease free. According to Joel Salatin:

So far, not one case of food-borne pathogens has been reported among the thousands of pastured poultry producers, many of whom have voluntarily had their birds analyzed. Routinely, these home-dressed birds, which have not been treated with chlorine to disinfect them, show numbers far below industry comparisons. At Polyface, we even tested our manure and found that it contained no salmonella.

Pastured poultry farms exhibit trademark lush pastures and healthy chickens with deep-colored egg yolks and fat. As with any movement, some practitioners are excellent and others are charlatans. Knowing your product by putting as much attention on food sourcing as you do on planning your next vacation is the way to insure accountability.

If you don’t want arsenic in your chicken or salmonella in your turkey, the solution is simple: opt out of the industrial food supply. Know your farmer. Know your food.

(photo by artbystevejohnson)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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36 Responses to Deadly Salmonella NOT Illegal In Foods
  1. Heather Niles Barber via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:35 pm

    Great article. Awesome info.

    • marj
      August 19, 2011 | 12:03 pm

      While they were raiding raw milk in California, guess what turned up on the other side of the country. Yersinia in PASTRURIZED milk.

  2. Denise Cusack via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:36 pm

    I had wondered that exact thing.

  3. Wendy Eaton via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:37 pm

    That just ain’t right.

  4. Ken Collins via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:38 pm

    Salmonella is closely related to the Escherichia genus and are found worldwide in cold- and warm-blooded animals (including humans), and in the environment. They cause illnesses like typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, and foodborne illness.[2]

  5. Theresa Margaret via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:50 pm

    Scary. And I was just reading the Renegade’s article about orange juice today! We’re doomed!

  6. Dana Seilhan via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:57 pm

    It’s natural when your ability to butcher an animal is roughly on par with that of a first-grader with poor gross motor skills. For someone who actually slaughters and butchers like they know what they’re doing, though, it’s a lot less likely.

  7. Dana Seilhan via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:58 pm

    And I do not mean to slander those poor people working in industrial slaughterhouses who have few other options in life and who wind up severely injured in the process of doing their work. But the whole setup of industrial slaughterhouses and industrial meat processing has the outcome of doing the type of work you’d expect from a first-grader with poor gross motor skills. Sucks but true.

  8. Shanalea Kraker via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 2:59 pm

    I just asked someone the same thing!!!

  9. Alice Lynch Meadows via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 3:02 pm

    They need to let people decide what they want to eat. I hate living in a nanny state!

  10. Allison Joi Burgueno
    August 16, 2011 | 3:34 pm

    “Two weeks ago Rawesome Foods was raided for supplying raw dairy”

    This is simply not true. They were raided for technicalities in supplying raw dairy and other foods as part of a co-op “club”. This is what happens when you try to cut the tax man out of your loop. I’m not trying to make excuses for the government. I just wish people would stop crying over split milk.

    In the meantime, the more people opt out of the industrial food chain the more the government is going to hammer the little guy. Changing the food chain is the only option or get your own farm.

    Have you ever killed a chicken, pig or cow?

    • Herb Arce
      August 29, 2011 | 6:58 pm

      Yes, I have. I don’t eat quite as much as I used to. It’s a lot of work raising and killing your own food. But satisfying,

  11. Dana Seilhan via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 3:58 pm

    Why is it always “nanny state”? It could just as well be Authoritarian Father state. Are those words too big or something? I mean, who has a nanny anymore, anyway? But many of us have dealt with Authoritarian Father figures. Is that OK because it’s sanctioned by religion or something? I don’t get it.

  12. Audrey Houston via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 6:03 pm


  13. Brittnee Turner Horting via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 7:42 pm

    Absurd…insane…revolting….just a few words that come to mind. We have much bigger problems then decieding between “nanny” and “authoritarian father” Dana…so just calm down…

  14. Milind Khandekar via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 8:16 pm

    Same with sugar/high fructose corn syrup without fiber, totally poisonous, but FDA/USDA won’t touch it.

  15. Sharon Rose Miller via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 8:23 pm

    Sooo, say I’m a mafia hit man (woman) who needs to whack a guy. Your sayin that alls I needs to do is gives this guy some salma-whatsits tainted meatballs? And I do no time? Fuggetaboudit!

  16. Melissa @ Dyno-mom
    August 16, 2011 | 10:07 pm

    People are terribly dishonest with themselves and each other when it comes to food safety issues. It not fundamentally about what the law does or does not say, it is about every increasing reliance on factory farming and scientific intervention and what does not meet that desire. People are afraid of the natural and organic and they enforce they law unequally out of fear and the USDA encourages fear mongering. Good points!

  17. Pam Jaslove
    August 16, 2011 | 11:24 pm

    I am outraged.

  18. Melissa Sangren Nichols via Facebook
    August 16, 2011 | 11:32 pm

    I have got to stop reading these statuses this late @ night. It makes my blood boil and gets me so furious!!!!! This is crap. Stupid. How can teenagers have abortions and the parents insurance pays for it bUT the parents do not need to be informed or give permission, or you have to be 18 to get a tattoo and body piercing s or have a parent consent form. These are permanent things. There’s not a dawg gone thing wrong with drinking RAW milk. Or selling it. Its a choice. That’s to my own body. This just baffels me!!!!! Absolutely flabbergasted!!!

  19. Wouter Bron via Facebook
    August 17, 2011 | 2:12 am

    Yes, I read that. So hypocrite.

  20. Krista Maureen via Facebook
    August 17, 2011 | 3:57 am

    Where do you buy “pastured” poultry? =)

    • KristenM
      August 17, 2011 | 4:33 pm

      From a local farmer, where else?

    • Hayley
      August 18, 2011 | 8:22 pm

      Do you have a farmer’s market where you live? The one in our city doesn’t offer much but the neighboring city has a good turnout, including farmers who raise chickens, beef and pork on pasture. You could probably find some there :) It might be a little more expensive than store-bought chicken but the more I read the more I’m willing to spend, lol.

  21. Heather
    August 17, 2011 | 9:13 am

    While I am probably in the minority here in that I do want food safety regulations, even for raw milk, I think the ones we have are in desparate need of revamping. It’s like The Jungle all over again in these industrial meat factories. Ugh.

    • gail
      August 20, 2011 | 3:12 pm

      Good point. Thank you. While I would like less regulation on many things, some is good. I am a consumer of raw goat’s milk for MANY years, and know that when I moved from the country to the city, years went by without that product, and I now have allergies. May or not be related.
      We need to know about the source of what we consume, raw or messed with. The people who handle my milk are professionals with lots of experience who pride themselves on their product. THAT’S the kind of regulation we need. Conscience/Caring providers. We control the pursestrings ~~

  22. Clabbermouth
    August 17, 2011 | 4:29 pm

    The FDA/USDA are stricter about milk than meat because they consider milk a “ready-to-consume” food. I think it would be beneficial to our movement for everyone involved to remind consumers – and regulators – that consumers are free to boil milk themselves if, for whatever reason, they are concerned about pathogens. We are, after all, free to eat raw meat and eggs, although the FDA tells us to cook them.

    • KristenM
      August 17, 2011 | 4:32 pm

      I agree! Just because you buy raw milk, doesn’t mean you drink it raw. Perhaps you make cheese with it and use the cream to make butter. It should be treated like any other raw animal food by our regulatory bodies.

  23. Amit
    August 17, 2011 | 7:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Scary stuff, however, I’m not completely surprised. The USDA and FDA are in bed with these companies.

    Total hypocrisy to go after small family farms producing raw milk and and let mega-corporate “meat” produces poison people.

  24. Melantha
    August 18, 2011 | 7:27 am

    Good can come out of our horrible compromised food system: it was yet another ground beef recall, which might have actually affected stuff I bought, that tipped me over to the point of switching over exclusively to locally-raised, pastured meats. Never looked back.

    • gail
      August 20, 2011 | 3:13 pm


  25. Nick
    August 19, 2011 | 9:35 pm

    Ok…but Rawsome was raided a few years back. Not because they were selling raw milk. Because they didn’t have a permit. They weren’t busted for “selling raw milk.” They were busted for not having a permit. Big difference. What does it take to get a permit? Plenty of other places sell raw milk and don’t get busted. I feel like people are too quick to yell gov. conspiracy without thinking the issue through. Had they gotten a permit after the first wrist slap, they wouldn’t have spent the night in jail. End of story.

  26. Walter Jeffries
    August 20, 2011 | 10:53 am

    Playing with fire… Our family is exposed to “Deadly Salmonella”, “Deadly E. coli” and all sorts of things all the time. It doesn’t make us sick. Probably because of a combination of good health on our part, healthy eating and living, cooking foods – except we eat raw veggies grown in (oh, god!) manure based composts.

    So why are people dying? Because some people do really have stronger and weaker immune systems. Sometimes it is age related. Sometimes it is compounded with other diseases. Sometimes it is because our government is trying to make everything too sterile and as a result they are making it so people do have weaker immune systems since they’re not getting exposures.

    Yes, we want foods to be as safe as we can make them but you can’t make them “perfectly safe”. If you demand perfectly safe then you’re going to have the government killing off all raw food consumption in favor of heavily processed, heavily preserved “safe” foods. How about a little radiation with your spinach?

    Thus, you’re walking the razor’s edge and playing with fire. Which way do you want the law to be? Food choices or “perfectly” “safe”? I like choice which means it can’t be made perfectly safe. I work to make it as reasonably safe as I can but the consumer’s needs to cook their meat, use separate cutting boards and utensils and wash their hands. That’s reality.

    • gail
      August 20, 2011 | 3:05 pm

      You make good points, but I don’t see the issue as narrow as “choices” or “perfect”. I see a more broad issue here. We have choices every moment of every day and reap the rewards of their merit. Perfection is a figment of the imagination I believe, in this realm at least. I am not striving for perfection, but rather to provide myself with the best possible information, reducing my chances of bad health while increasing the opposite. We walk with confidence daily into the unknown and keep our eyes on the prize, aware that this fearlessness is what will get us there. We also know that the getting there is the prize. Learning, retaining, passing it on~~that’s the best we can do. What a good thinker you are.
      Thank you,

  27. gail
    August 20, 2011 | 2:49 pm

    Thank you. It is my goal to educate myself, and then as many others as are within my circle of influence, on how to take care of ourselves. I just came from our food buying club who recently experienced a “raid” by the local Health Dept., who issues a quarantine on our dairy products, even though we have been careful to have necessary documentation to show that we own these animals. We fought and won that one, but expect them to return, better armed with the facts they need. “They”, seem to be on the move, pressured by Big Ag. and both careful consumer and local small farmers are the losers. After all, we are in the minority. All the more reason to arm ourselves with all the knowledge possible, and to spread it as much as we can.
    Again, thank you and keep up the work! If you ever need an assistant, let me know!

  28. sa'ada
    October 25, 2011 | 6:33 am



    treated with cholorine?

    does that really happen? i think i’ve just bought my last supermarket chicken.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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