January 22, 2015 — In an effort to prevent 50,000 cases of food poisoning per year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a new set of rules that would limit the acceptable level of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination on chicken and turkey.
Currently, about 50% of tested samples of ground chicken test positive for Salmonella. The USDA allows this because thoroughly cooking chicken will kill the bacteria. However, undercooking chicken or mishandling it can lead to food poisoning.
The new rules would cut the acceptable contamination level to 25% of tested samples.
In raw chicken wings, breasts, and legs, the acceptable level of Salmonella would be reduced to 15.4% and Campylobacter would be reduced to 8%.
Many people are surprised to learn that the USDA does not recall chicken that is contaminated with Salmonella, unlike ground beef and steaks that are immediately recalled if E. coli is discovered. The difference is that beef is often eaten rare or medium-rare.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1 million people are infected with Salmonella and 1.3 million with Campylobacter every year.
The new rules were proposed after an outbreak of salmonellosis in 2012 and 2013. The outbreak was traced to Foster Farms chicken. Over 600 people were infected and 40% of them were hospitalized. The long-running, serious outbreak was blamed on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella.
Despite calls from some consumer advocates to add antibiotic-resistant Salmonella to a list of unacceptable contaminants, the new rules do not address this issue.
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