12 Charts Explore America's Salmonella Problem—and Steps to Solve It

Stronger rules for poultry would spur action on farms

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12 Charts Explore America's Salmonella Problem—and Steps to Solve It
Flock of broiler chickens inside poultry house on eastern shore of Maryland
Edwin Remsberg Getty Images

A million Americans a year are sickened by foodborne Salmonella, and current food safety policies and regulations don’t do enough to reduce these illnesses, particularly those from poultry products. Americans are falling ill from Salmonella-contaminated food at rates virtually unchanged from those in 2000, and chicken is still frequently linked to outbreaks.1

Federal data from the past two decades underscores the lack of meaningful progress in reducing these infections. They also suggest ways that food regulators and producers can better protect consumers by targeting Salmonella contamination and serotypes, or varieties, in the poultry supply chain earlier and more precisely. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)—the U.S. Department of Agriculture agency overseeing meat and poultry safety—should update its policies and regulations to apply these lessons and lower the rates of foodborne disease.

In a promising move, USDA officials announced plans in Oct. 2021 to pilot and study innovative strategies that could help decrease poultry-related Salmonella illnesses. “Time has shown that our current policies are not moving us closer to our public health goal,” said Sandra Eskin, who as deputy under secretary for food safety is leading the initiative. “It’s time to rethink our approach.”

Goal Set, Not Met

Foodborne Salmonella causes an estimated 1 million illnesses and 19,000 hospitalizations each year.2 In 2010, the federal government set a goal to cut the nation’s incidence rate by 24% over a decade to 11.4 cases per 100,000 people—which the nation’s food producers and regulators are not yet close to meeting.3

Line chart showing the Salmonella incidence rate per 100,000 people from year 2000 to 2020. The minimum is 14.08 case per 100k in 2000; the max is 18.29 in 2018. The chart also shows the gap between the actual case load and the target set by the government. Annotation: The federal government’s Healthy People initiative set a goal in 2010 to reduce the rate from the 2006—2008 baseline of 15 infections per 100,000 people to 11.4 cases per 100,000 people by 2020. However, by 2019, the rate had risen to 17.1 cases.

Salmonella Incidence Rate Per 100,000 People, 2000-19