October 17, 2017

USDA New Measures to Reduce Contamination in Poultry

Yesterday, the USDA proposed new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination in ground chicken, ground turkey, and raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings. These standards are part of FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan that was launched in December 2013.

chicken breasts styrofoamAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Today, we are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat. This is a meaningful, targeted step that could prevent tens of thousands of illnesses each year.”

According to Consumer’s Union, 71% of store-bought chicken is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. And 8% of those products are contaminated with both Campylobacter and Salmonella. Government studies have found that 25% of cut up chicken, and about 50% of ground chicken is contaminated with Salmonella. Most people purchase chicken parts, which are much more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella than whole chickens. Scientists think that cutting the chicken releases more bacteria from the skin.

A pathogen reduction performance standard is the way FSIS assesses food safety performance of meat processing facilities. Standards for whole chicken were passed in 1996, but since then more chicken processed into parts are sold. FSIS wants to see a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to achieve a 30% reduction in Salmonella infections, and from 19 to 37% reduction in Campylobacter illnesses.

Vilsack also said that the USDA will post facility ratings online to increase transparency and put more pressure on poultry processors. The legal limit for Salmonella contamination on chicken parts will be set at 15%. For ground chicken, the maximum acceptable percent positive will be 25% for Salmonella and 1.9% for Campylobacter. The old standards for chicken parts were 44.6% in ground chicken.

USDA estimates that almost 2/3 of facilities producing chicken parts and 62% of facilities producing ground chicken will not achieve these standards at first. An initial inspection will be followed up with more sampling to see if the facilities are making and using changes to food safety systems. FSIS is also going to being routine sampling of raw chicken parts and sampling imported poultry products. These results will also be posted online.

The government estimates that these standards could lead to about 50,000 prevented illnesses every year. Comments on these standards will be accepted and evaluated for 60 days. Final standards and implementation dates will be announced this spring.

 

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