USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed new Federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry products. The new standards, which apply to ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings, were developed as a major step in the Salmonella Action Plan FSIS launched in 2013 as a way to reduce illnesses from meat and poultry products.

“Today, we are taking specific aim at making the poultry items Americans most often purchase safer to eat,” says Tom Vilsak, USDA secretary. “This is a meaningful, targeted step that could prevent tens of thousands of illnesses each year.”

Al Almanza, USDA deputy under secretary for food safety, says the new standards and improved testing patterns will have a major impact on public health.

“Getting more germs out of the chicken and turkey we eat is an important step in protecting people from foodborne illness," says Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at CDC. “I look forward to seeing fewer Americans getting sick as a result of these proposed changes.”

According to USDA, a pathogen reduction performance standard is the measure FSIS uses to assess the food safety performance of facilities that prepare meat and poultry products. Since these standards will be tougher to achieve, ground poultry products will have less contamination and result in less illnesses.

FSIS established performance standards for whole chickens in 1996, but the agency says it has since learned Salmonella levels increase as chicken is further processed into parts.

“Poultry parts like breasts, wings and others represent 80 percent of the chicken available for Americans to purchase,” FSIS says. “By creating a standard for chicken parts, and by performing regulatory testing at a point closer to the final product, FSIS can greatly reduce consumer exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter.”

FSIS estimates an average of 50,000 illnesses will be prevented annually in the US after the new standards are implemented.

Other proposed measures include:

For chicken parts, ground chicken and ground turkey, FSIS is proposing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to achieve at least a 30 percent reduction in illnesses from Salmonella. For chicken parts, ground chicken and ground turkey, FSIS is proposing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to reduce illness from Campylobacter by at least 19 and as much as 37 percent.

FSIS plans to use routine sampling throughout the year rather than infrequent sampling on consecutive days to assess whether establishments’ processes are effectively addressing Salmonella and, where applicable, Campylobacter on poultry carcasses and other products derived from these carcasses.

Comments will be evaluated for 60 days. The final standards and an implementation date will be announced this spring.

 The federal register notice is available on the FSIS website here.