The proposed pathogen reduction performance standard and the additional microbial testing it requires would prevent an estimated 50,000 illnesses annually, according to FSIS' science-based risk assessment.
The standard is designed to achieve at least a 30% reduction in illnesses from Salmonella and a decrease in Campylobacter–related illnesses ranging from 19% to 37%.
Officials weigh in
“We are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “This is a meaningful, targeted step that could prevent tens of thousands of illnesses each year.”
“These standards, as well as improved testing patterns, will have a major impact on public health,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “The proposed changes are another way we're working to meet the ever-changing food safety landscape and better protect Americans from foodborne illness.”
“Getting more germs out of the chicken and turkey we eat is an important step in protecting people from foodborne illness,” said Robert V. Tauxe, MD, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I look forward to seeing fewer Americans get sick as a result of these proposed changes.”
FSIS uses the pathogen reduction performance standard to assess the food safety performance of facilities that prepare meat and poultry products, agency officials explained. “By making the standards for ground poultry tougher to meet, ground poultry products nationwide will have less contamination,” with fewer foodborne illnesses as a result, they said.
Agency officials said FSIS implemented performance standards for whole chickens in 1996 but agency staff have since learned that Salmonella levels increase as chicken is further processed into parts. Breasts, wings and other poultry parts account for 80% of the chicken available for Americans to purchase.
Therefore, by creating a standard for chicken parts and performing regulatory testing at a point closer to the final product, FSIS can greatly reduce the public’s exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter, officials said.
FSIS intends to evaluate comments for 60 days and announce final standards and an implementation date this spring. The Federal Register notice is available on FSIS' website.