USDA to Strengthen Poultry Safety Standards

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced new performance standards aimed at reducing incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in broilers and turkeys. By lowering the acceptable level of tests for Salmonella and Campylobacter on raw chicken and turkey in processing facilities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service estimates that the new Campylobacter

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced new performance standards aimed at reducing incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in broilers and turkeys.

By lowering the acceptable level of “positive” tests for Salmonella and Campylobacter on raw chicken and turkey in processing facilities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service estimates that the new Campylobacter standards will prevent 39,000 illnesses during the first two years, while 26,000 illnesses will be prevented under the new Salmonella standards during that time.

“There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the president's Food Safety Working Group to lower the danger of foodborne illness,” Vilsack said in a prepared statement. “The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter.”

In response to the new standards, representatives from the National Chicken Council noted that food safety remains a top priority for the poultry industry, and that these new standards are consistent with industry performance in recent years.

“However, it should be noted that the suggestion that human illness is directly linked to the microbiological profile of raw chicken is not very well supported by the data, since the prevalence of human disease from Salmonella has been going up in recent years while the presence of Salmonella on raw chickens has been going down,” wrote Richard Lobb, director of communications for the Washington-based group. Lobb added that the industry “will work hard to fulfill the expectations of the government,” and will continue its efforts at educating consumers about safe cooking and handling.

The new standards are the first ever established for Campylobacter, while the Salmonella standards mark the first time those rules have been revised since 1996. The standards are currently open for public comment and have yet to be enacted, but President Obama's Food Safety Working Group has set a goal of having 90% of all poultry establishments meeting the revised Salmonella standard by the end of 2010.