USDA's New Performance Standards Promise Safer Poultry; Need Strong Enforcement Powers from Congress

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal

May 10, 2010

The newly announced performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter—the most common hazards in the meat and poultry supply—represent the most significant food-safety development from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 15 years. USDA has cut the target levels for Salmonella in poultry by over 60 percent, and set the first-ever performance standard for Campylobacter.

These long-awaited changes will push poultry processors to improve the safety of their products. When HACCP was first adopted in 1996, USDA promised it would continuously update its performance standards, but the agency never delivered on this promise, until now. Performance standards are the metric for measuring whether a company is maintaining control over the pathogens that are often present on poultry, and which cause millions of illnesses each year. Beginning in July, poultry processors will be operating under a stricter testing standard for Salmonella, and for the first time, the same products will be evaluated for Campylobacter, the most common foodborne pathogen in poultry.

These standards could have a greater impact on consumers than any food safety measure since 1996. Chicken and turkey will be safer once they are implemented, especially if retailers avoid companies that are named by USDA as needing improvement. Unfortunately, USDA still lacks authority to enforce these standards by closing failing plants—an authority stripped away in 2001 by a federal court in Supreme Beef, Inc. vs. USDA. For consumers to fully realize the benefits of the improved standards, Congress should reinstate USDA’s authority to enforce its performance standards.


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