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U.S. plans increased oversight of chicken production

CHICAGO - U.S. meat inspectors are set to toughen their standards for the nation's poultry production in March in a bid to reduce foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture proposals released on Wednesday.

Under new guidelines, the USDA plans to begin testing raw chicken parts for salmonella after an 18-month outbreak of the bacteria linked to Foster Poultry Farms ended last year. The outbreak sickened more than 600 people.

The USDA estimates implementation of new safety standards for sampling poultry for salmonella and another bacteria called campylobacter will prevent an average of 50,000 illnesses annually.

Oversight of chicken parts, including breasts, legs and wings, is critical for food safety because they represent 80 percent of the chicken available for purchase in the United States, public health officials said. The government implemented standards to assess food safety for whole chickens in 1996 but said it has since found that salmonella levels increase as chicken is processed into parts.

"We are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.


Salmonella and campylobacter are among the most frequent causes of foodborne illness and can increase if raw poultry products are improperly stored at warm temperatures. Salmonella is common in chicken feces, feathers and other body parts, and it can cause diarrhea, fever, vomiting and other ailments in humans.

Under USDA's proposed measures, inspectors will routinely assess throughout the year whether companies are effectively addressing salmonella in poultry. Currently, inspectors infrequently test samples at facilities on consecutive days.

"Getting more germs out of the chicken and turkey we eat is an important step in protecting people from foodborne illness," said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. poultry companies have been working together to reduce contaminated chicken and will meet or exceed USDA's new safety measures by the time they are implemented, said Ashley Peterson, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Chicken Council.

Last year, Foster Farms recalled some of the contaminated chicken involved in the salmonella outbreak and said it invested more than $75 million in new equipment and other efforts to reduce salmonella rates at its operations.

Foster Farms, Tyson Foods Inc and Perdue Farms did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

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