Semicarbazide (SEM) is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's official marker for nitrofurazone use in food animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service conducted a study to evaluate the source of SEM that was identified by a U.S. trading partner in a subset of chicken samples presented for inspection, even though nitrofurazone has been banned from use in U.S. food-producing animals since 2002. The study design included analyses to detect and quantify total and bound SEM in chicken collected from the eight U.S. establishments that were associated with the reported detection of SEM. Samples were collected immediately following evisceration, chilling, and cutting carcass into parts (cut-up). Although antimicrobial interventions (processes to reduce pathogen concentrations) are typically used at all three of these processing steps, the product contact time during chilling is significantly longer (hours versus seconds) than during evisceration and cut-up. In addition, parts were analyzed after 0, 10, 20, and 30 days of frozen storage. No postevisceration samples tested positive for SEM; however, most samples collected postchilling and after cut-up tested positive. The absence of SEM in postevisceration samples and detection in the subsequent postchilling samples and after the cut-up samples suggest that the detection of SEM in the sampled products is not indicative of preharvest nitrofurazone use and may be a result of postharvest processing in these establishments.

  • Semicarbazide in chicken may result from sources not associated with nitrofurazone.

  • Semicarbazide formation during chicken processing is associated with the chilling process.

  • SEM formation may be associated with antimicrobial interventions during chicken processing.

  • The proportion of bound and total semicarbazide may increase due to freezing.

  • Use of SEM as an indicator of preharvest nitrofurazone may result in false positives.

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