Last year, after extensive studies, the USDA found that a shocking 25 percent of all chickens sold in America contain salmonella, which sickens more than 1,027,000 Americans annually. Now the USDA is telling the U.S. poultry industry, “enough is enough!” and is proposing changes to the salmonella and campylobacter verification testing programs, which would create brand-new, stricter standards and could prevent up to 50,000 illnesses per year.
“Today, we are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “This is a meaningful, targeted step that could prevent tens of thousands of illnesses each year.”
The new standards will allow contamination rates of no more than 25 percent in ground chicken, 13.5 percent in ground turkey, and 15.4 percent in chicken parts. To compare, former standards allowed contamination rates of upwards of 44 percent for ground turkey and chicken. The agency estimates that as a result of these tougher standards, more than half of all facilities producing raw poultry parts will not be able to meet these standards initially, and will have to make improvements quickly to avoid being shut down.
“We look forward to reviewing the proposed new federal standards in their entirety and providing comments to the agency,” said Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs in response to these changes. “Even though we’ve collectively made tremendous progress in reducing salmonella on raw chicken to all-time low levels, the fact is any raw agricultural product, whether its fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, or poultry, is susceptible to naturally occurring bacteria that could make someone sick if improperly handled or cooked. Our members are investing heavily in food safety research and are using the best science, research and technology available to break the chain of salmonella at every stage of production. Coupled with continuous USDA inspection and proper handling and cooking to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken is safe to eat 100 percent of the time.”