Device Protects Chickens From Salmonella at HatchingBy Jill Lee
November 12, 1998
ALEXANDRIA, Va., Nov. 12--A new device from USDA researchers clears disease-causing organisms from the air in poultry houses, protecting chicks the moment they hatch, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Richard Rominger said here today at the opening of a two-day National Conference on Food Safety Research.
"American consumers expect healthful, quality food," said Rominger. "Our meat and poultry are fundamentally safer, thanks to cutting-edge research like this that systematically seeks out and destroys sources of contamination."
Rominger said the USDA researchers recently applied for a patent on their system that uses a negative electrostatic charge to collect dust particles in hatching cabinets.
Airborne particles often give Salmonella bacteria a free ride to chicks' feathers and lungs. One infected chick can quickly spread the bacteria throughout an entire hatching cabinet. That increases the risk of Salmonella for consumers as adult birds are grown for food.
The new instrument collects charged dust from the air and deposits it onto plates that are automatically rinsed several times an hour.
"In separate laboratory tests by USDA researchers, this tool reduced Salmonella by 95 percent in week-old birds and in egg-laying hens," Rominger said. "It appeared to have similar effects when tested in commercial hatching cabinets."
The electrostatic approach may also control Salmonella spread. In other experiments with Salmonella-infected chicks, it reduced airborne transmission by 99 percent. But the system may offer even more protection: preliminary swab tests with the laying hens seem to show the charge kills bacteria outright.
Mandated by Congress, the Nov. 12-13 conference at the Ramada Plaza Old Town serves as a national forum on food safety. Attendance is free and open to the public. About 30 scientists, regulatory agency personnel and policy makers are discussing future food safety research priorities in university and federal laboratories. The conference is co-sponsored by USDA's Agricultural Research Service and Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.
The poultry research Rominger cited is just one example of recent findings on food safety.
Mitchell explained how the device could also improve farmers' profits. Recent test results suggest it may increase the number of chicks hatched by an average of 1 percent. Eggs that result in healthy chicks earn farmers a "hatchability bonus."
"Multiply that 1 percent increase by the millions of eggs these farmers sell in a week and you see the potential for increased profit," Mitchell said. "We've already gotten several calls from companies interested in licensing the patent or installing systems in hatcheries."