Let Your Voice Be Heard

Ken Potuznik

Fulfilling another key recommendation of the president’s Food Safety Working Group, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new performance standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens (broilers) and turkeys. The new standards, which are expected to prevent tens of thousands of illnesses yearly, represent the most significant food safety development from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 15 years. The USDA has cut the target levels for Salmonella in poultry by over 60% and set the first-ever performance standard for Campylobacter.

“There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the president’s Food Safety Working Group to lower the danger of foodborne illness,” said Vilsack. “The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter.”

According to the USDA, the performance standards a plant must achieve are based on the percentage of samples testing positive for a given pathogen. The standards were developed using new baseline studies that measure the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in broiler and turkey carcasses. Beginning in July, poultry processors will operate under the stricter testing standard for Salmonella, and, for the first time, the same products will be evaluated for Campylobacter, the most common foodborne pathogen in poultry. The Food Safety Working Group wants 90% of all poultry establishments to meet the revised Salmonella standard by the end of 2010.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also released a compliance guide to help the poultry industry lower the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter and another compliance guide on pre-harvest management practices known to reduce Escherichia coli O157:H7 contamination in cattle.

Both documents are priorities for the Food Safety Working Group and will be posted on the FSIS website. The FSIS is seeking comment on the performance standards and two compliance guides announced in the Federal Register Notice. The FSIS expects to begin using the standards after analyzing the comments and making any necessary adjustments.

After two years, the FSIS estimates that 39,000 illnesses will have been avoided each year under the new Campylobacter standards, while 26,000 fewer illnesses will occur each year under the revised Salmonella standards. The new performance standards build on a series of steps taken by the USDA over the past year—as part of the Food Safety Working Group—to enhance food safety.

By revising current performance standards and setting new ones, the FSIS encourages establishments to make continued improvement in the occurrence and level of pathogens in the products they produce.

“Preventing foodborne illness is the core mission of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and today’s announcement will help us reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter,” said Jerold Mande, deputy under secretary for food safety. “We welcome comments on today’s announcement.”

So get involved. Voice your opinion. The best way to improve food safety is to let your voice be heard.

All the Best,
Ken Potuznik
Associate Publisher

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