USDA statistics indicate there has been a steady increase in Salmonella contamination in poultry over the last five years. Salmonella is a difficult pathogen for the poultry industry to combat, because it is naturally present in birds, and difficult to eliminate.

The latest data on poultry contamination compiled by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service shows that about 16 percent of poultry tested positive for Salmonella last year – an 80 percent increase since 2000, when 9 percent of poultry tested positive. The highest rates of contamination were found in ground turkey and broiler chickens.

The CDC estimates that 1.4 million people get sick from Salmonella in the US each year, with about 400 deaths. But epidemiologists are increasingly concerned about the spread of strains of some drug-resistant Salmonella in animals.

Consumer groups say the increasing cases of Salmonella contamination show the need for Congress to tighten food inspection laws to give the USDA greater authority to shut down plants that aren’t taking adequate measures to control the spread of pathogens.

The European Union has embarked on an aggressive program of controlling pathogens in food, and claims this year that Salmonella pathogens were found in 10 percent of poultry.