The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized standards that seek to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings. Part of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS’) effort to revamp the poultry inspection system, the new rules require routine sampling throughout the year rather than infrequent sampling on consecutive days, and authorize the agency to publicize facility results online.

“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,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a February 4, 2016, news release. “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.”

By updating its inspection schedule, testing at points closer to the final product and strengthening pathogen reduction performance standards, FSIS seeks to achieve at least a 30 percent reduction in Salmonella related illnesses linked to chicken parts, ground chicken and ground turkey. For Campylobacter, it also expects to see a 32-percent reduction in illnesses linked to chicken parts and ground chicken, and a 19-percent reduction in illnesses linked to ground turkey.

Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) criticized the standards for failing to address all incidences of foodborne illness. “While USDA’s initiative in issuing this plan is to be applauded, the substance falls short in addressing this important public health issue,” DeLauro was quoted as saying. “The Government Accountability Office recently identified major flaws in the proposed poultry slaughter program, so why is USDA proposing we expand the program?

Meat is continuing to leave these processing facilities contaminated with Salmonella. We should be fixing the source of the problem, not leaving it up to consumers to guess whether their dinner will send them to the hospital.” See Rep. DeLauro Press Release, February 4, 2016.

Additional details about new poultry standards appear in Issues 532 and 552 of this Update.