The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed new performance standards aimed at reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as raw chicken parts like breasts and thighs.
The standard aims for a minimum 30 percent reduction in Salmonella and a decrease in Campylobacter of at least 19 percent and as much as 37 percent. Performance standards for whole chickens have existed since 1996, but this is the first time that the agency has set separate standards for chicken parts.
“The American consumer has moved away from the Sunday roast and the whole chicken to buying chicken breasts, legs, and wings, and it’s a progressive regulatory and public health strategy to address that,” says David Acheson, MD, founder and CEO of The Acheson Group and a former FDA associate commissioner for foods. “I think it’s an important step forward for food safety, but the agency acknowledges in their Federal Register notice that there will be a 60 percent or so noncompliance. They know they’re setting a bar that a lot of the industry won’t meet, and they’re isn’t going to be a regulatory consequence that I know of for not meeting that goal.”
But Dr. Acheson pointed to the achievements of Foster Farms in Salmonella control as proof that the bar that FSIS is setting is achievable—and perhaps even too low. In October 2013, when the company began its multi-step program designed to cut Salmonella at all stages of the production process, it was more or less on par with the industry average of about 25 percent for the pathogen in poultry parts. Today, the company reports Salmonella levels of below 5 percent.
“That tells me it’s doable,” says Dr. Acheson. “And these guys have millions of birds. That tells me that a company that says they can’t do it, either doesn’t want to or they cannot economically afford to—because it’s not an inexpensive thing to do. But if you have the will and the cash, it’s achievable. Foster is still in business, so they found a way to manage.”
Shaw writes frequently about science, medicine, and health while serving as a regular contributor on notable medical publications.