WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture may not be doing enough to strengthen the safety of the poultry Americans eat, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported.

The GAO launched a study of USDA measures aimed at controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination. After reviewing regulations, documents and interviews of industry, consumer and government stakeholders, GAO identified several challenges that could hinder USDA's ability to reduce pathogens in poultry products.

For example, USDA has not developed performance measures for Salmonella contamination in ground poultry or young turkey carcasses even though standards for those pathogens have been in place since 1996 and 2005, respectively.

"Without performance measures for these standards, USDA is not publicly reporting performance information and cannot assess the effects of its actions related to these standards in meeting the goal of maximizing domestic compliance with food safety policies and, ultimately, protecting public health," the GAO said in its report.

In another example, the GAO noted that USDA developed guidelines in 2010 regarding on-farm practices for controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter, but the guidelines did not include information on the effectiveness of those practices.

"USDA did not confirm that it plans to include this information in future guidelines," GAO wrote. "Without providing this information in future guidelines, USDA is not fully informing the poultry industry of the potential benefits of adopting these practices and encouraging their implementation."

The GAO gave recommendations on ways USDA could improve performance standards for poultry safety. The recommendations included developing Salmonella performance measures with associated targets to monitor whether poultry processing plants are in compliance with agency standards; including information on the effectiveness of recommended farm practices to reduce pathogens in poultry; and developing performance measures for reducing Campylobacter contamination.

The GAO report is available online.