The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Feb. 4th that it has finalized standards to reduce salmonella and campylobacter in chicken and turkey, and is updating testing procedures. Based on scientific risk assessments, the FSIS estimates implementation of these rulings will prevent an average of 50,000 illnesses annually.
The move means no more than 15.4 percent of chicken parts (breast, wings and ground chicken) can test positive for salmonella and no more than 7.7 percent can test positive for campylobacter at poultry plants. The maximum acceptable positive tests for ground chicken are 25 percent for salmonella and 1.9 percent for campylobacter. For ground turkey, the maximums are 13.5 percent for salmonella and 1.9 percent for campbylobacter.
The FSIS also updated its microbial testing schedule at the plants, will test high-volume establishments weekly and lower-volume facilities less frequently and will soon begin posting more information online about individual companies' food safety performance.
"Over the past seven years, USDA has put in place tighter and more strategic food safety measures than ever before for meat and poultry products. We have made strides in modernizing every aspect of food safety inspection, from company record keeping, to labeling requirements, to the way we perform testing in our labs," says agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. "These new standards, in combination with greater transparency about poultry companies' food safety performance and better testing procedures, will help prevent tens of thousands of foodborne illnesses every year, reaching our Healthy People 2020 goals."
The FSIS implemented performance standards for whole chickens in 1996 but has since learned that salmonella levels increase as chicken is further processed into parts. Poultry parts comprise up to 80 percent of the chicken available for purchase in the U.S. By making the standards for ground poultry tougher to meet, ground poultry products nationwide will have less contamination and thus result in fewer foodborne illnesses.
"This approach to poultry inspection is based on science, supported by strong data, and will truly improve public health," says Al Almanza, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. "The new performance standards will complement the many other proactive, prevention-based food policies that we've put in place in recent years to make America's supply of meat and poultry safer to eat."