WASHINGTON – Effective in July, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is implementing revised and new performance standards aimed to reduce the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys. FSIS estimates that after two years of enforcing the new standards, approximately 5,000 illnesses will be prevented each year under the new Campylobacter standards, and approximately 20,000 illnesses will be prevented under the revised Salmonella standards per year.

Stricter performance standards have been developed by FSIS using recently completed nationwide studies that measure the baseline prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys prepared for market. Despite improvements, there was still a risk of consumers being exposed to these pathogens through poultry, the studies indicated.

“While the industry has made significant strides in recent years, far too many Americans continue to fall victim to these foodborne illnesses,” said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety. “These improved standards will drive the industry to do better. They are tough but achievable. And when fully implemented, they will prevent tens of thousands of Americans from getting sick.”

“Industry has already done an outstanding job of improving the microbiological profile of raw products and will strive to do even better,” said Dr. Scott M. Russell, a microbiologist and professor of poultry processing at the University of Georgia and science advisor to the National Chicken Council. “I personally have witnessed and been part of the tremendous efforts the industry has made to meet the challenge of ensuring food safety and I know these efforts will continue.”

Since the 1990s, USDA has monitored chicken and turkey plants for Salmonella. For the third quarter of 2010, an average of 7.4% of chicken carcasses at processing plants nationwide tested positive for detectable levels of Salmonella. The actual experience in processing plants is believed to be somewhat lower since the government tends to conduct more sampling in plants with higher Salmonella results, NCC relays. The new USDA performance standard is 7.5%.

The new Campylobacter standard requires that no more than 10.4% of raw chickens sampled should have Campylobacter jejuni, C lari and/or C. coli on them. The samples will be taken at the same time as the Salmonella samples are collected, according to the NCC.

“For consumers, the bottom line is that chicken is safe when properly cooked and handled, and that the chicken producers and processors are continually working to make them safer,” Dr. Russell added. “Instructions for safe handling and cooking are printed on every package of meat and poultry sold in the US.”