WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015-- Buried in USDA’s new microbial standards for poultry safety is the disclosure that the Food Safety and Inspection Service plans in March to start testing raw pork for “pathogens of public concern.” The agency provided no explanation of what specific pathogens inspectors might be looking for or how frequently or where the sampling would be done. But the agency says the testing could result in pathogen limits being set next for pork processors.
FSIS spokesman Adam Tarr said the testing would “give us a better picture of what is going on in pork plants. We'll look at the findings and then decide how to move forward, including possibly developing a new performance standard for pork.”
A spokesman for the North American Meat Institute, which represents processors, said the agency is expected to test for campylobacter as well as salmonella.
The agency’s concerns about pork are rooted in earlier testing that led to the new standards for chicken and turkey. FSIS, which is struggling to bring down the salmonella illness rate in humans, set performance standards, or safety limits, for salmonella in whole chicken way back in 1996 but has since realized that individual parts of the bird, such as the breasts, wings and legs, also are being contaminated at a significant rate. The bacteria are believed to be spread through the chicken pieces as carcasses are cut and handled.
Now, inspectors want to know if the same phenomenon is happening in raw pork, said Steve Larsen, director of pork safety for the National Pork Board. Larsen doesn’t think it is, citing industry-sponsored testing on pork chops and roasts sold at retail. Salmonella prevalence was lower for those retail cuts than on the whole carcasses, he said.
The new FSIS performance standards for salmonella and campylobacter will apply to both ground chicken and turkey as well as poultry parts.
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