Stricter pathogen limits imminent for poultry

Published on March 16, 2016
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Most chicken products and some turkey products will need to meet stricter standards on Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination starting in May. 

New federal standards governing chicken pieces and ground chicken and turkey are expected to prevent about 50,000 illnesses yearly. In implementing the new standards, federal food safety authorities plan to disclose to the public more information on how well individual poultry processors meet the pathogen reduction standards, according to a Federal Register notice published Feb. 11. 

The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will, effective May 11, start evaluating whether poultry producers meet the new standards for controlling contamination in chicken pieces and ground chicken and turkey products. By setting the new limits on acceptable amounts of contamination, the agency intends for poultry producers to improve sanitation and other interventions enough to prevent about 43,000 illnesses connected with chicken parts, 4,000 with ground chicken, and 3,000 with ground turkey.

Those figures would represent a 30 percent decline in salmonellosis, a 32 percent decline in Campylobacter-related illnesses connected with the chicken products, and—because Campylobacter prevalence already is low in turkey—a 19 percent decline in Campylobacter-related illnesses associated with ground turkey. 

The standards on chicken parts alone will affect about two-thirds of the poultry sold in the U.S., according to USDA data. 

In addition, the agency plans to disclose to the public whether each poultry producer meets the standards, falls short, or is considered to be a top performer. The top performers would be those with no more than half the allowed number of samples positive for the pathogens. 

The agency is considering additional standards on pathogen reduction for mechanically separated poultry, particularly if it is being added to ground raw meat sold to the public, February’s notice states. The decision will depend in part on whether agriculture industries work to reduce contamination by early 2017.

“FSIS is concerned about the ongoing wholesomeness of this product if establishments do not take steps to reduce the high frequency of contamination of mechanically separated poultry,” the Federal Register notice states.  

Related JAVMA content: 

US may adopt stricter pathogen standards for poultry (March 15, 2015)