Biden administration eyes sweeping changes to poultry industry

More than 1 million people get sick from salmonella each year despite decades of prevention efforts.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday proposed sweeping changes to the way chicken and turkey meat is prepared to reduce illness from food contamination but could require companies to meat made sweeping changes to their operations.

Despite decades of efforts to try to reduce foodborne illness caused by salmonella, more than 1 million people get sick each year, and nearly a quarter of that is due to turkey and chicken.

As it stands, it is the consumer’s responsibility to avoid illness from raw poultry by handling it with care in the kitchen – it is common advice not to wash raw chicken or turkey (which will spread the virus). bacteria), use separate utensils when handling meat and cook to 165 degrees. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service wants to do something about it by starting with the bird farmers and following through the processing plant where the meat is done.

Their food poisoning target: Out of more than 2,500 salmonella serotypes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified three that cause one-third of all human illnesses caused by food products. chicken and turkey. The agency recommends limiting the presence of these substances on poultry products.

In 1994, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service took a similar step by declaring certain strains of E. coli a contaminant in ground beef and launching a testing program. pathogens have significantly reduced meat-borne illnesses.

In an effort to limit salmonella outbreaks in poultry, the agency is proposing a regulatory framework that would include testing imported flocks of chickens and turkeys for a bacterial disease that commonly affects sugar. bowel and affects 1.3 million people annually with symptoms that can include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that can last for several days. Officials hope that testing chickens and turkeys before they enter the slaughterhouse will encourage farmers to adopt methods to reduce bacterial contamination of poultry before it’s time for meat processing.

The second measure would require enhanced monitoring of salmonella during processing by sampling bacteria at multiple stages within the processing facility. The third major change would be to establish a maximum allowable level of bacterial contamination and possibly limit three specific types of salmonella that can make people sick. Meat that is over the limit or contains prohibited types of salmonella may be banned from the market.

FSIS will begin the lengthy process of proposing new rules by holding a public hearing on November 3 to solicit input from the poultry industry and other industries. The government’s goal is to put in place new rules and regulations that could be in place as early as next year and completed within two years.

The agency said it is taking the time to come up with these ideas and get input before setting company regulations. The agency hopes to begin developing the rule in mid-2023 and complete it in two years, said USDA Deputy Secretary of Food Safety Sandra Eskin.

“We know this is a watershed moment in the agency’s history, and for that reason, we’re trying to be as transparent, intentional, and collaborative as possible,” Eskin said.

Consumer advocates have been pushing for such action on poultry products for years. Eskin said President Joe Biden’s administration is pushing to make changes.

Seattle-based attorney Bill Marler, one of the nation’s leading lawyers representing food-borne illness consumers, welcomed the agency’s action recognizing that salmonella control in animals animals before they reach processing plants is important to reduce meat contamination. He said FSIS should be bold and treat salmonella as adulteration – a contaminant that can cause foodborne illness – in all meats as a starting point.

“What they’ve outlined is something really unique that they haven’t done before but it has no deadlines and no regulations attached to it that will actually be done. That’s my criticism,” he said.

The industry has been unable to meet government targets for reducing foodborne salmonella contamination for several decades. According to Eskin, if the new target set for 2030 is achieved, 11.5 infections per 100,000 people per year will have to be reduced by 25%.

Eskin said the industry has managed to reduce the number of salmonella-contaminated chicken samples by 50% between 2017 and 2021, but the incidence of salmonella disease over the past two decades has not decreased significantly. More than 23% of foodborne salmonella illnesses are attributable to poultry consumption with nearly 17% coming from chicken and more than 6% from turkey.

The North American Meat Institute, the trade association representing US beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey packers and processors, says fighting salmonella is a top priority. .

“We are encouraged to see that FSIS is going through a regular rule-making process. We look forward to reviewing proposals and commenting from industry,” said Julie Anna Potts, the group’s president and chief executive officer.

A spokesman for the National Chicken Council, which represents companies that raise and process chickens for meat, said they support efforts to reduce salmonella bacteria on chicken products.

“We are concerned that the proposed framework currently lacks industry input, research and data to support it,” said Ashley Peterson, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the group. Biden administration eyes sweeping changes to poultry industry

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