Federal regulators have announced new food safety rules that are designed to help reduce the risk of food poisoning from chicken and turkey products.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s department of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced finalized food safety rules on Feb. 4, focused on new steps the agency has implemented to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken and turkey products that are processed.
More than 1.2 million cases of salmonella food poisoning occur in the U.S. every year, and one-third of those are attributed to USDA FSIS-regulated products. The agency estimates that the implementation of the new rules may help prevent more than 50,000 illnesses each year.
The USDA used scientific risk assessments to update their microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and is committing to posting the results of the testing, pass or fail, for each individual food company, to offer Americans the data to make informed purchasing decisions.
The guidelines include pathogen reduction standards to assess the performance of companies that prepare meat and poultry products. The agency has made the standards for ground poultry tougher, hoping to cause less contamination and fewer foodborne illnesses.
“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Standards for whole chickens were established in 1996, yet the USDA found levels of Salmonella increase as chicken is further processed into parts. Breast, wings and ground meat, represent 80% of the chicken available for Americans to purchase.
The USDA guidelines institute regulatory testing closer to the final product stage to help reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter.
For chicken parts, ground chicken and ground turkey the agency is finalizing pathogen reduction performance standards to reduce illness from Salmonella by 30%. It is also finalizing pathogen reduction standards to reduce illness from Campylobacter by 32%. It is estimated the reduction will reduce food poisoning 19% overall.
After food safety standards were proposed in early 2015, FSIS began conducting routine sampling throughout the year instead of infrequent sampling on consecutive days.
Other safety steps the USDA has implemented to help improve both meat and poultry illness rates include, the zero tolerance policy for raw beef products containing six additional strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli, ensuring beef products mechanically tenderized are labeled and include cooking instructions, and the test and hold policy in 2012 to reduce exposure to unsafe meat products.
The agency is also committed to working with the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure food safety. The new steps fulfill the Salmonella Action Plan that the USDA-FSIS released in 2013.
For healthy individuals, salmonella symptoms typically include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain lasting between 4 and 7 days. The illness can become worse due to the delay in treatment because the infection can only be diagnosed by testing stool samples and is usually treated with antibiotics.Among individuals with a weakened immune system, such as the elderly, children or pregnant women, the illness can pose a much greater risk and may lead to death or still birth if left untreated. In rare circumstances, the infection can even spread throughout the blood stream and cause arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.