The U.S. Agriculture Department declared salmonella an adulterant in breaded chicken. File photo by shutterdandan/Shutterstock.com
Aug. 1 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking new steps to protect against salmonella in poultry by declaring the bacteria an adulterant in breaded and stuffed raw chicken products.
The agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Monday breaded raw poultry products will be subject to regulation if they exceed a lower level of salmonella.
FSIS is planning to set the new limit at one colony forming unit of salmonella per gram for breaded raw chicken to significantly reduce the risk of illness. FSIS will also take public comment on whether it should drop the regulatory level down to zero tolerance to make sure contaminated products are never sold.
"Food safety is at the heart of everything FSIS does," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "That mission will guide us as this important first step launches a broader initiative to reduce salmonella illnesses associated with poultry in the U.S."
Since 1998, breaded and stuffed raw chicken products have been associated with as many as 14 outbreaks and approximately 20 illnesses, according to the USDA. Breaded chicken products, such as chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kiev, are usually found in the freezer section.
Many products appear to be cooked, but are only heat-treated to set the batter and breading. FSIS is working to improve product labeling which it says is not always effective at reducing consumer illnesses.
Monday's announcement about regulatory changes for breaded chicken is part of the USDA's larger effort to reduce salmonella illnesses linked to poultry. The USDA announced in October it is targeting a 25% reduction in salmonella poisonings.
Salmonella causes about 1.35 million infections and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which blames raw chicken, eggs, fruit and peanut butter for most of the cases.
Last month, a new study found nearly one-third of ground chicken could contain salmonella.
"The USDA has pledged to reduce illness from salmonella contamination for more than a decade, but Consumer Reports' tests show that more progress is clearly needed to protect the public," James Rogers, director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, said last month. "We need tougher action by the USDA to keep salmonella out of our kitchens and off of our plates."
The USDA plans to present its new strategy to reduce salmonella illnesses in poultry in October, with a public meeting scheduled for November.
"Today's announcement is an important moment in U.S. food safety because we are declaring salmonella an adulterant in a raw poultry product," said Sandra Eskin, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. "This is just the beginning of our efforts to improve public health."