New salmonella standards for popular chicken cuts set by USDA
By Mary Clare Jalonick The Canadian PressFeatures New Technology Production Business/Policy United States
January 22, 2015 – The U.S. government is pushing the poultry industry to make its chicken and turkey a little safer with new standards aimed at reducing the number of cases of foodborne illness by 50,000 a year.
The proposed standards announced Wednesday by the Agriculture Department apply to the most popular poultry products — chicken breasts, legs and wings, and ground chicken and turkey. They are voluntary but designed to pressure companies to lower rates of salmonella and campylobacter, another pathogen that can cause symptoms similar to salmonella, in their products.
Among the measures companies could take to reduce the rates of those pathogens: better screening of flocks and better sanitation.
The proposal would ask poultry producers to reduce the rates of salmonella in raw chicken parts from around 24 per cent now to less than 16 per cent, and campylobacter rates in raw chicken parts from 22 per cent to 8 per cent. Rates also would be reduced in ground chicken and turkey.
The Agriculture Department says the standards could eventually reduce salmonella and campylobacter illnesses linked to raw poultry by about a quarter, or 50,000 illnesses a year.
“We are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The standards come after a lengthy outbreak of salmonella illnesses linked to California chicken company Foster Farms, which sickened more than 600 people between March 2013 and July 2014. In 2013, USDA said inspectors at Foster Farms facilities had documented “fecal material on carcasses” along with “poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary nonfood contact surfaces and direct product contamination.”
Foster Farms took measures to improve its sanitation and screening, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says the company’s products have less than 5 per cent salmonella.
Vilsack said the Foster Farms outbreaks led the department to realize it needed to be more focused on reducing salmonella in chicken parts. The department already had standards in place for whole carcasses, but not individual parts like breasts and wings. The new proposal would cover the parts, about 80 per cent of chicken available for purchase.
The secretary said companies should realize that complying is good business. “It’s in the long-term best interest of the market to have safer food,” Vilsack said.
Consumer advocates have lobbied for more stringent standards, saying the sale of raw poultry contaminated with salmonella should be illegal. Current law allows raw poultry to have a certain amount of salmonella because it is so prevalent and is killed if consumers handle and cook the meat properly.
By comparison, it is currently illegal to sell meat contaminated with E. coli, which can cause severe illness or death.
Around a million Americans get sick from salmonella every year, and almost 20 per cent of those illnesses are linked to chicken and turkey.
The salmonella rates are measured by taking poultry samples at plants. USDA said the agency would make public which companies are meeting the standards or going beyond them, and which companies have more work to do, giving companies more incentive to comply.
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