The United States Department of Agriculture has announced new federal inspection standards in an attempt to cut back on the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter cases that affect Americans. Specifically, the USDA is trying to make it safer to purchase ground chicken and turkey, as well as raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service uses reduction performance standards to assess the food safety performance of establishments that prepare meat and poultry products, and it's making those standards tougher to meet. Previously, the FSIS tested only whole birds, but the agency has since learned Salmonella levels increase as poultry is processed into parts. The agency hopes to achieve at least a 30 percent reduction in illnesses from Salmonella and at least a 32 percent reduction from Campylobacter.
"This approach to poultry inspection is based on science, supported by strong data, and will truly improve public health," USDA deputy under secretary for food safety Al Almanza said in a press release. "The new performance standards will complement the many other proactive, prevention-based food policies that we've put in place in recent years to make America's supply of meat and poultry safer to eat."
The USDA estimates 1.2 million foodborne illnesses are caused by Salmonella every year, and roughly one-third of those are attributed to FSIS-regulated products. In addition to the new standards, the FSIS has updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities and will soon begin publishing more information online about individual companies' food safety performance.
The new standards may reduce foodborn illnesses caused by tainted poultry, but Salmonella outbreaks caused by vegetables are linked to major American food companies on an all-too-regular basis. An outbreak linked to cucumbers used by Red Lobster, In-N-Out Burger, Whole Foods, and more has reached 39 states and sickened at least 888 people. Before Chipotle was hit with Norovirus and E. coli disasters last year, the chain was connected to a Salmonella outbreak caused by tomatoes in Minnesota.