USDA to Set Strict Limits for Pathogens in Poultry Products

chicken wings

The USDA is being charged with the task of curbing the presence of pathogens in poultry products, specifically those ground and separated in factories, because they’re more prone to higher levels of bacterial contamination.

According to the Government Accountability Office report, chicken breasts, wings, drumsticks, ground chicken and turkey meat have double-digit pathogen levels, which pose a threat to human health.

The report noted that “after the USDA set a standard of 7.5 percent for salmonella on whole chicken carcasses, contamination rates fell to the single digits,” explains the Washington Post. “A pathogen standard establishes the level of a bacteria that can be found on a poultry product before it is declared unfit for commerce.”

It also noted that the USDA missed two deadlines for setting these limits, and several U.S. senators criticized Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack over missing the deadlines. The agency had a September 30 deadline for “salmonella and campylobacter limits for chicken and turkey parts as well as campylobacter in ground turkey,” reports the Post. “It also missed a deadline for updating the rate of salmonella allowed in ground poultry, which is currently more than 44 percent for both chicken and turkey.”

Now the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says it will move swiftly towards announcing its updated pathogen standards and “create a way to measure how well poultry plants are doing on meeting these standards by the end of the calendar year,” explains the Post.

While the U.S. government does not restrict sales of poultry products with pathogen counts, moving towards regulated limits for contaminants like salmonella and campylobacter can help to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses and deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella and campylobacter cause close to 2 million food-borne illnesses, 27,000 hospitalizations and more than 450 deaths a year in the U.S.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.