USDA proposes new bacteria testing standards for poultry

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2015-- USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today proposed the first federal standards for salmonella and campylobacter testing in ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings.

FSIS implemented performance standards for whole chicken carcasses in 1996 but has since learned that salmonella levels increase as chicken is further processed into ground poultry or cut into parts.

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According to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), FSIS testing revealed high prevalence levels of contamination on raw chicken parts -- 24.02 percent for salmonella and 21.70 percent for campylobacter

CFA also said consumers today are more likely to purchase poultry parts such as breasts, wings and thighs, or ground poultry, than they are to purchase whole birds.

“These new performance standards will help improve the safety of the products that consumers are most frequently purchasing and consuming,” said Chris Waldrop, CFA's Food Policy Institute director, in a press release.

Poultry parts like breasts and wings represent 80 percent of the chicken available for Americans to purchase. By creating a testing standard for chicken parts, and by performing regulatory testing at a point closer to the final product, FSIS said it can greatly reduce consumer exposure to salmonella and campylobacter.

Development of these new standards is part of FSIS' Salmonella Action Plan, launched in December 2013 to reduce Salmonella illnesses from meat and poultry products.

"Getting more germs out of the chicken and turkey we eat is an important step in protecting people from foodborne illness," said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "I look forward to seeing fewer Americans get sick as a result of these proposed changes."

The CDC estimates that over 1 million cases of salmonellosis and 1.3 million cases of campylobacteriosis occur each year in the United States.

According to FSIS, the implementation of these standards could lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually.

For chicken parts, ground chicken and ground turkey, FSIS is proposing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to achieve at least a 30 percent reduction in illnesses from salmonella. For the same products, FSIS is proposing a standard designed to reduce illness from campylobacter by at least 19 percent and as much as 37 percent.

FSIS will accept comments on the proposal for 60 days and announce final standards and an implementation date this spring.

The National Chicken Council said the industry would review the proposal but that the industry was “exploring all options” for addressing the problem.

“This is something the industry has been proactively working to address, so when the performance standards for chicken parts are put in place by FSIS, we will be meeting or exceeding the standards, as we currently do for whole carcasses,” said Ashley Peterson, the National Chicken Council's vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.


 

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