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New poultry regulations aim to prevent foodborne illness
foster farms
New poultry company regulations aim to prevent foodborne illnesses, like the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms brand chicken that infected 634 people. - photo by Journal file photo

Poultry companies will now have to take further measures to prevent the spread of foodbourne illnesses, following the announcement of new requirements by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

These requirements are part of the agency's Salmonella Action Plan, created to help prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses like the Salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that has infected 634 people from 29 states and Puerto Rico from March 1, 2013, to July 11, and prompted a product recall.

"The United States has been relying on a poultry inspection model that dates back to 1957, while rates of foodborne illness due to Salmonella and Campylobacter remain stubbornly high. The system we are announcing today imposes stricter requirements on the poultry industry and places our trained inspectors where they can better ensure food is being processed safely. These improvements make use of sound science to modernize food safety procedures and prevent thousands of illnesses each year," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

FSIS will now require that all poultry companies take measures to prevent contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs. Also for the first time ever, all poultry facilities will be required to perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter. These requirements are in addition to FSIS' own testing, which the agency will continue to perform.

 The FSIS is also rolling out the New Poultry Inspection System, an updated science-based inspection system that positions food safety inspectors throughout poultry facilities in a smarter way. Also included in the plan are revised pathogen reduction performance standards for all poultry, and first-time-ever standards for poultry parts, which consumers commonly purchase. These new standards are expected to be announced later this year.

FSIS estimates that the new system will prevent nearly 5,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter foodborne illnesses each year.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.  Salmonella illnesses have remained steady, with some spikes, in the past 10 years, while Campylobacter is the second most reported foodborne illness in the United States.