The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released new performance standards to reduce salmonella and campylobacter in young chickens (broilers) and turkeys, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced. The new standards fulfill another key recommendation of President Obama's Food Safety Working Group.
 
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also released a compliance guide to help the poultry industry address salmonella and campylobacter and a compliance guide on known practices for pre-harvest management to reduce E. coli O157:H7 contamination in cattle.
 
"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 news release. "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."
 
After two years under the new standards, FSIS estimates that 39,000 illnesses will be avoided each year under the new campylobacter standards, and 26,000 fewer illnesses each year under the revised salmonella standards.
 
The standards announced today are the first-ever standards for campylobacter, and mark the first revision to the Salmonella standards for chicken since 1996 and for turkeys since the first standards were set in 2005. The performance standards set a level in percentage of samples testing positive for a given pathogen an establishment must achieve and play a key role in reducing the prevalence of foodborne pathogens and preventing harm to consumers. The President's Food Safety Working Group has set a goal of having 90 percent of all poultry establishments meeting the revised salmonella standard by the end of 2010.
 
The announcement builds on the series of steps to enhance food safety taken by USDA over the past year as part of the Food Safety Working Group, including:
  • Launching an initiative to cut down E. coli O157:H7 contamination including stepped-up meat facility inspections by starting the testing of additional components of ground beef, and issuing new instructions to inspectors asking that they verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses.
  • Appointing a chief medical officer within USDA's FSIS to coordinate human health issues within USDA and FSIS and build bridges with the public health community and senior leaders throughout the federal, state and local sectors to establish a consistent approach and heighten food safety awareness.
  • Issuing consolidated, more effective field instructions on how to inspect for E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
  • Continuing to develop the Public Health Information System (PHIS) to help the agency more rapidly and accurately identify trends, patterns and anomalies in data and thus allow us to more efficiently, effectively and rapidly protect public health.

By revising current performance standards and setting new ones, FSIS is encouraging establishments to make continued improvement in the occurrence and level of pathogens in the products they produce. FSIS developed the stricter performance standards using recently completed studies that measure the baseline prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chicken (broiler) and turkey carcasses nationwide.

FSIS is seeking comment on the performance standards and two compliance guides announced in the Federal Register Notice. FSIS expects to begin using the standards after analyzing the comments and, if necessary, making any adjustments.
 
CSPI calls for greater USDA authority
 
The Center for  Science in the Public Interest food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal applauded the new standards in a statement while also calling for returning authority to the USDA:
These standards could have a greater impact on consumers than any food safety measure since 1996. Chicken and turkey will be safer once they are implemented, especially if retailers avoid companies that are named by USDA as needing improvement. Unfortunately, USDA still lacks authority to enforce these standards by closing failing plants — an authority stripped away in 2001 by a federal court in Supreme Beef Inc. vs. USDA. For consumers to fully realize the benefits of the improved standards, Congress should reinstate USDA's authority to enforce its performance standards.

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