USDA Aims to Reduce Salmonella with New Poultry Rules

Salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen in this country. Now, in addition to a believed reduction of 26,000 <"">Salmonella poisonings, 39,000 less campylobacter poisonings from chicken and turkey are expected under new food safety rules announced yesterday, said USA Today. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made the announcement.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis. Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.

“These standards will have probably the greatest public impact for consumers’ health since anything USDA has adopted in the last 15 years,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., quoted USA Today.

The new standards mandate that no more than 7.5 percent of chicken carcasses at a plant can test positive for Salmonella, a reduction from the 20 percent allowance in effect since 1996, said USA Today. According to Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council, Salmonella levels in chickens tested at 7.1 percent nationally in 2009, wrote USA Today. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.4 million cases of Salmonella poisoning with over 500 deaths occur in the United States each year, noted USA Today.

Regarding campylobacter, which was not previously regulated, the new mandates state that companies fail if they have greater than 10 percent positives for “highly contaminated” carcasses and 46 percent for “low level” contamination, said USA Today. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates find that about half of this country’s poultry plants measure at this level, said USA Today. USA Today reported that in 2008, about 40.2 percent of chickens tested positive for campylobacter, which causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever, wrote USA Today. The CDC says the illness infects 2.4 million Americans annually, killing about 124, added USA Today.

We recently wrote that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it issued guidance on new safety rules for shell eggs (the USDA is responsible for certain meat products, but not eggs, while the FDA has oversight over poultry eggs). The FDA published the guidance last month for small egg producers to help them comply with a 2009 federal egg safety regulation designed to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis in shell eggs during production, transportation, and storage.

Entitled “Guidance for Industry: Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Transportation, and Storage—Small Entity Compliance Guide (SECG),” the new guidance is intended to set forth, in plain language, the requirements of the 2009 egg safety regulation to help small businesses comply with that regulation and is part of a coordinated strategy between the FDA and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to help ensure egg safety.

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