No More Salmonella
For years, Denmark averaged 450 confirmed salmonella cases a year in a population of 5 million. Then in 1988, the number of illnesses rose to nearly 3,500 cases. Denmark responded by creating a National Salmonella Control Program that has been shaping their poultry industry ever since. Today, the eggs and chicken produced in Denmark are salmonella free.
How did Denmark Do It?
Denmark uses a top-down approach that focuses on preventing salmonella starting with the breeder flocks. Flocks were tested for salmonella and only salmonella-free chickens made it through to become breeding stock. No pesticides or vaccines are used. The chickens Denmark raises are salmonella free to begin with.
In the entry area, workers remove street-clothes and shoes. They step over a 15-inch-high barrier into the second compartment, where they wash their hands up to their elbows. Then they step over another 15-inch barrier into the final compartment, where they put on sanitized clothes and boots. Measures like this help prevent contamination. Chicken houses were also redesigned to keep salmonella-carrying insects and pests away. When flocks are sent to the slaughter house (after about 36 days), workers destroy the bedding those chickens used and disinfect equipment and clothing used inside the chicken house.
The Industry Today
Denmark’s chicken industry has maintained a salmonella-free atmosphere for years. The National Food Institute estimates that the salmonella crackdown prevented 150,000 illnesses between 1997 and 2004 alone, and saved millions of dollars in hospital fees that would have gone toward salmonella treatment. The down side is that consumers pay about $6 per pound for chicken meat, which is nearly double the average price in the United States.
The poultry business in the U.S. butchers 8.5 billion chickens a year, as compared with Denmark’s 100 million. Many chicken experts in the U.S. say that Salmonella regulation here is impossible because of the size of the industry. Twenty-five years ago, that’s what many people in Denmark were saying. There are pros and cons to implementing a system like Denmark’s, but the overall health benefits are encouraging. Perhaps it’s time for the U.S. to give Denmark’s policy a closer look.