May 10th, 2010
04:32 PM ET

USDA sets new standards for inspecting poultry

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

The federal government is trying to cut down on the number of food borne illnesses in poultry. This afternoon Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new standards for inspecting young chickens (broilers) and turkeys.

"With these new standards we hope to prevent an estimated 39,000 illnesses due to Campylobacter and 26,000 illnesses due to Salmonella within the next two years," Vilsack said. Vilsack also mentioned the new performance standards fulfill a key recommendation of the President's Food Safety Working Group and are the first-ever for Campylobacter, and the first revision to the Salmonella standards for chicken since 1996 and for turkeys since 2005. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also released a compliance guide to help the poultry industry address Salmonella and Campylobacter and a compliance guide on known practices for pre-harvest management to reduce E. coli O157:H7 contamination in cattle.

"There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the President's Food Safety Working Group (FSIS) to lower the danger of food borne illness," said Vilsack. "The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter."

According to the USDA by revising current performance standards and setting new ones, FSIS is encouraging establishments to make continued improvement in the levels of pathogens in their products. FSIS developed the stricter performance standards by using data from completed studies that measured the baseline prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chicken (broiler) and turkey carcasses nationwide.

The FSIS expects to begin using the standards after analyzing public comment and, if necessary, making adjustments.

"Preventing food borne illness is the core mission of the Food Safety and Inspection Service and today's announcement will help us reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter," said Jerold Mande, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety.

Comments regarding the compliance guides document must be received within the 60 day comment period through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. All submissions received through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or by mail must reference the Food Safety and Inspection Service and include the docket number "FSIS-2009-0034."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Bill Marler

    Perhaps FSIS will take up my Petition on non-O157 shiga toxins next?

    May 10, 2010 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. eman

    So, what exactly are these new standards that elude to but never actually mention? What is different about the new standards, and how do they accomplish the goal of reducing Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7?

    May 10, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lisa Powers, Santa Fe

    It is an excellent idea but with Tyson running the majority of poultry through this country, it's an unlikely idea these new regulations will do any good. A better idea is to stop food companies and poultry farmers from feeding their chickens the enormous amount of antibiotics and other enhancing drugs. Chickens are not meant to be the size they are today when grown on poultry farms. I have suffered numerous issues digesting meats loaded with these drugs and as a result, have for the most part cut meat out of my diet unless locally bought. It is sad when eggs off a farm do not upset my stomach at all but when purchased from the store, I have severe stomach pain and nausea. If the U.S. Department of Agriculture truly cared about protecting American citizens, they'd be more focused on the amount of chemicals we ingest due to what these animals are fed.

    May 10, 2010 at 18:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Powers

      Hello, I have been trying to locate who I have gotten mysterious packages and calls for. I just searched the net and found this. Hoping you are the Lisa Powers in Santa Fe that recently ordered a text book from Thailand. DHL just tried to deliver and I let them know I am not the right person, however, I am Lisa Powers. Of course, I am just curious now after a few calls and I think three attempts at package delivery. Perhaps we will meet. I saw some reference to the community college in SF with your name. i will be taking a couple of classes this fall. Maybe we will run into each other. The DHL package number is 7295132773 attempeted on 8/3/10. Their number is 888-273-8876. Good luck getting the package. Blessings,
      Lisa D Powers

      August 6, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
  4. YummyDrFood

    @Bill Marler

    If the O154 trouble keeps up...perhaps.

    May 10, 2010 at 20:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Alexander Lobaina

    I think the FDA needs to have a better standard on the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in poultry and cows.

    May 10, 2010 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Andrew Harris

    Instead of enacting policy that seeks to control the problems caused by factory farming the USDA needs to address the real issue. Raising chickens, en masse, is a horrendous method of providing our society food. Chickens are crammed into cages and fed godknowswhat until they are ready to slaughter. At which time many(including the chickens that McDonald's and KFC sell) are basically tortured before being scalede to death. It is a wrong that our demand has created and one that our demand can right.

    May 10, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. FSIS Microbiologist

    To Bill Marler,

    Perhaps, if you get Congress to better staff FSIS. More funding would be nice, but money is a lot easier to get than bodies. Right now, those of us doing lab work are maxxed out.

    May 10, 2010 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Todd A

    I do not understand why chickens are not vaccinated against Salmonella in this country. When I travel to the UK, all the eggs in the store are stamped with a mark that shows they came from vaccinated chickens, thus eliminating this source of Salmonella from the food chain.

    Why are we unable or unwilling to take such a basic step in this country?

    May 10, 2010 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. fred barlo

    It is about time. I remember when Reagan cut meat inspectors by 40%, around the time that he cut the Federal millionaires tax from 70% to 28%, and raised the National Debt from $900 Billion to $3.5 trillion. Near the time that he ran unemployment at Christmas for two years at 10.8%.

    May 10, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Matt

    Why do they cloak this in such obtuse language. They have limits. They lowered the acceptable limits. I cannot actually find the changes made in the regulations from the links provided in this article. However, my guess is the change was a drop in the bucket compared to the obvious changes that are desperately needed in the poultry industry as a whole.
    The changes needed are simple:
    1. Genetically engineered poultry must be functional, i.e. they must be able to actually use the legs they are currently too top-heavy to use.
    2. There needs to be a MUCH smaller bird to square footage ratio. The number of chickens allowed in one small area is lunacy to anyone except the companies profiting from the inhumane treatment of these poor birds.

    Overall our current animal treatment is horrendous. I'm a hunter and appreciate meat as much as the next guy. However, the animal needs to have been raised and slaughtered humanely. The current system is not supporting that type of treatment of the animals that sustain us. They provide for us, we need to provide more protections for them.

    May 10, 2010 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Judi

    Does this mean the animals will finally be treated humanely – that the terrible abuse and suffering of these innocent animals at the hands of idiots will end? Humanely treating the animals is the only way your going to stop food contamination.

    May 10, 2010 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Marissa

    What does this mean for antibiotic use?

    May 11, 2010 at 00:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. azezel

    A major problem in the food production industry is that to cut down on labor costs and take advantage of increased productive ability of the new machinery companies have been running different types of meat directly after each other. To meet environmental goals and reduce the strain on local infrastructure in order to avoid the costs of upgrading or large water bills some of these same companies have been reducing the time they spend on sanitation and even skipping the process altogether if they think it doesn't pose a safety issue. It is not just beef pork and poultry. If you look on the labels of candy bars for different companies there are allergy warnings saying that they don't clean their equipment before switching to new products. Often food workers are told just enough to do their jobs but not enough be safe, effective or innovative.

    May 11, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Guy Kimble

    It's about time the Goverment took a bigger role in food safety. Hopefully chicken and turkey handlers don't try to use this as an excuse to raise poultry prices.

    May 11, 2010 at 00:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Tiffani Howell

    This is an interesting development and I hope it is effective. I grew up in the US but am now living in Australia, and I have always been surprised by how much better the food safety appears to be in Australia compared to the US. It would be interesting to compare food safety practices, on a macro level, between different countries, and perhaps we could all learn from each other.

    May 11, 2010 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Toby

    Nice verbage article for PR purposes but what is the bottom line? What exactly are the new proposals?

    May 11, 2010 at 00:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. sandra

    I am allergic to corn, chickens, eggs, chocolate, and lamb. I would think that it was from food that I ate too much of, but I never ate lamb much at all. But, if you knock out all of the food that has corn, chicken, eggs (almost all baked goods), chocolate, and lamb....that knocks out a lot of food. If we aren't supposed to eat animal proteins because it raises our estrogen levels (I had an estrogen fed tumor and wondered why my estrogen is so high?), then I could be a vegan that doesn't get along with chocolate or corn. Is chocolate genetically modified? Am I having a problem with genetically modified corn? (It wasn't labeled...and I didn't know about that until recently.) Why am I sick?

    May 11, 2010 at 01:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. sandra

    Anyway...if it was my country and I had to figure out how to make people well and food safer...I'd look at corn. fungi. strep. antibiotics. better antifungals. then when you can get the infections out of there, diet and exercise...and I think it would work. (Can I control yeast infections by changing pH? and how much room do I have here? not much, I know. Would lemons in my water get me where I need to be? How do I get rid of yeast infections without killing me? That would be high on my priority list. Or just keep them out of my life in the first place. Where are they coming from?)

    May 11, 2010 at 01:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Brad Estep

    It is not just food born illnesses that are the problem. These chickens are being fed antibiotics and hormones that are not natural. They are making their way into our bodies and changing us, especially men. Not only that that but they are altering the chickens too. Most chickens are grown in as short a time frame as possible so as to increase the profits for the corporation. They grow so large in such a short period of time their bones cannot support their weight and they can't walk properly. This cannot be good for who is consuming them, not to mention the humane aspects of what is going on here. And if you are serious about stopping E-coli then feeding corn to cattle has to stop, as this is the cause of it. These companies are killing the american people. We need people in the regulatory offices that have not worked for the companies they are regulating. Please help us!!!!!!

    May 11, 2010 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. sandra

    Why is it that lots of people on the web see yeast infections as a huge problem, but health care not so much? It is a huge problem for blood sugar. Seems like yeast infections have always been there, but nobody seems to question it as hard as it needs to be questioned. Is it because they can't kill it without killing us? But, why don't they tell us? Do they really understand it, or not really? Seems like they miss it. There's something in their training that dismissed it. Is that because they don't want to see it, or is it because it has been there for so long that people don't question it anymore. People miss things that are very similar and this is one of those types of things. I tell doctors and they still miss me. (I don't explain it well.) If you have an infection (such as yeast, or strep) it's very difficult to control blood sugar. Diet and exercise will bring it down...to a point, but it gets stuck at a point when you have an infection. When you get rid of the infection, you can put your blood sugar right where you want it (tightly controlled in the 80's...even 70's) with diet and exercise. So, you can lose weight in between infections. The thought process on that is that an infection will keep your blood sugar too high and anything that you eat will be too much. Your body will send insulin to deal with the extra sugar. Insulin loves to store fat and hates to let go of fat. Very difficult to lose weight with an infection. Once I get rid of them, I can lose weight with diet and exercise. for as long as I can stay away from grain and not need a doctor again. I would do fine if I didn't have to go to the doctor. But, as it stands...I need a doctor that understands it. I feel like I'm hitting the wall here. Can't get what I need. I feel like I am going to die trying to find help sometimes. Doesn't seem like I will find anyone that can help me. They don't see it, or don't want to. I can't tell which. There's something odd about it. (Is it money? I hate that.)

    May 11, 2010 at 01:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. sandra

    The antibiotic mess is blocking me also. I feel like I need an antibiotic to deal with grain (then I need an antifungal to deal with the antibiotic), but I need a doctor that understands it so I can chase this monster down. It's taking my body...I hate things that mess with my body.

    May 11, 2010 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Bones

    I see, they are "cracking down" on food-borne illness, but are unlikely to address the deplorable conditions the chickens are raised in – the very reason the illnesses are so common.

    May 11, 2010 at 02:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Chicken Lover

    Increased inspections will be a welcome change, but the diseases chickens are suffering from come from shoving them in large, dark hangers and not giving them ample space to or time to grow. Growth hormones, preventative antibiotics and crowding are making the chickens ill. I personally don't want to eat a chicken that is so weak from growing so fast that it can't even stand on its own legs. The fundamental way we are raising our food is causing many of the illnesses in the chickens. We need to start re-thinking how we raise our food to stop the spread of disease. Anti-biotics and crowding isn't healthy for the chickens or for us.

    May 11, 2010 at 03:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ed

    Perhaps they'll consider allowing smaller local producers so any contaminations are isolated instead of encouraging centralizing operations into huge facilities where contamination can spread to millions of pounds of meat in hours?

    Nah, what am I thinking? That's just crazy talk.

    May 11, 2010 at 06:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Hally

    Read the book "Fast Food Nation." It taught me a lot about what really goes on in this "industry." It was fascinating (and sad, when it came to the chapters about food poisoning and working conditions in slaughterhouses) but I couldn't put it down. I'm so glad I'm better informed about the truth– this is a very complex issue that will require more than increased USDA testing to fix. The meat/dairy industry has the power, not the USDA. Consumer demand for inexpensive (chemical-filled) meat and dairy products (instead of higher quality, which would be more expensive) is a big part of the problem. My sympathies to anyone who has ever had serious food poisoning or lost a loved-one to it.

    May 11, 2010 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. atapcreations

    Let's hope these regulations don't place undue hardship on small, local organic farmers. Their operations are quite different from the giant, filthy poultry operations of huge agribusiness.

    May 11, 2010 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. analyst from DC

    How much these standards help is debateable. Few laws are worth the paper they're written on if they're not effectively (i.e. proactively) enforced. When I learn that the FDA is randomly inspecting at least 25 percent of food processing and manufacturing centers in the U.S. annually, then I'd consider "new standards" as being helpful.

    May 11, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Terry from West Texas

    OK, Conservatives. Here is another example of federal interference in the free market. When Conservative leaders complain about oppressive regulation of corporations and "deregulating" the industry, these are the kinds of regulations they are complaining about.

    What would a "free market" solution be?
    1. Poultry corporations should be free from inspection.

    2. If consumers get sick from tainted poultry, the corporation should have the right to deny and conceal those facts.

    3. If consumers get sick from a particular brand of poultry, they are free to purchase another brand of poultry from another uninspected source.

    4. If someone dies from eating poisonous poultry, they should not have the right to file a "frivolous" lawsuit. What is a "frivolous" lawsuit? It is one where a middle class citizen sues a corporation or a wealthy person.

    May 11, 2010 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Bhavin Jani

    Just watch the movie "FOOD INC" and you will see why we have a problem with our health in our country

    May 11, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Vegetarian

    I doubt these regulations will have any real impact on the horrors of our meat and food industry. Many careless and harmful actions are already being brushed under the rug, not only by those that work in factory farms (that's a given), but by our officials in the government (lawyers and congressmen who once owned factory farms...etc.). I believe this article was only published to calm the growing fear in American's that their health is in danger. But what they should really fear is the lack of power they hold to create a change. I'm not advocating for vegetarianism (even so, politics would find a way to convince you of another lie, that a meat diet is healthier than a vegetarian diet), but rather encourage people to do their own research. Ask questions, read labels! This is your health and your life with which you are gambling. You cannot afford to not care.

    May 11, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. spoony

    Does this mean they're just going to pump them more full of preventative antibiotics than they already are? I'm all for lowering food borne illness, but all these meds people are eating can't be healthy either.

    May 11, 2010 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Stefanie Gwinn-Vega

    Its about time! Hopefully these regulations go far enough to actually protect the public and not care about mega corporations pocket books. Now if they would only work on the beef industry I would think we were making progress. When third world starving countries turn away our beef it is time we take a closer look. If cows were not fed the corn and other feed to make them fat and therefore more profitable, we wouldnt be worrying about ecoli in our beef or lettuce for that matter.

    May 11, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Retired Meat Inspector

    As a retired federal meat inspector, the problem will never be solved as long as poultry is chilled in a common bath. If one carcass is contaminated with fecal material in the chiller, all will be contaminated with pathogens.

    May 11, 2010 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. FED UP

    Cook your food consumers. The company reputation and their controls are what keeps your food safe, no matter what you think. I've worked in this industry for over 20 years across the nation, and none of the in-plant USDA staff cares about anything but their job security. Additionally, most USDA vets are not from our country and work only in the offices in a plant, not on the floor. Chiller chlorination or other interventions are the main step for reduction in pathogen levels in the evisceration process, no matter what the retired inspector thinks.

    May 25, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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