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USDA: Controlling Salmonella  10/19 06:46


   OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Federal health officials are rethinking their approach 
to controlling salmonella in poultry plants in the hope of reducing the number 
of illnesses linked to the bacteria each year, and on Tuesday the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture will announce several steps it plans to take to 
achieve that goal.

   The USDA says the industry has succeeded in reducing the level of salmonella 
contamination found in poultry plants in recent years, but that hasn't 
translated into the reduction in illnesses the agency wants to see.

   Poultry is linked to roughly 23% of the 1.35 million salmonella infections 
in the U.S. each year that leads to roughly 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 
deaths, and those numbers haven't changed much.

   So, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to set up pilot projects to try 
changing the way it tests for salmonella in plants and to try encouraging the 
industry to do more on the farm to reduce the amount of bacteria on chickens 
before they enter the plant. The agency also plans to hold a series of meetings 
with industry officials and interested groups to discuss other ways to reduce 
the risk of salmonella illnesses.

   "This is deeper, more targeted and more system-based approach than in the 
past," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "The hope is that we can 
significantly reduce the risk of these serious cases and it's certainly worth 
the effort."

   Currently, USDA tests for the presence of salmonella on poultry at 
processing plants. One of the proposed pilot projects would add tests for the 
quantity of bacteria present and tests for the specific strains of salmonella 
that cause the most illnesses.

   The agency also wants to encourage farmers to take a combination of steps 
proven to reduce bacteria in their chickens, including using more vaccinations, 
adding probiotics to feed and doing more to ensure that the birds' bedding, 
food and water remain clean.

   The National Chicken Council trade group has said the industry has already 
done a several things to reduce salmonella contamination, including spraying 
germ-killing solutions on raw chicken during processing, improving sanitation 
and using more vaccines. Spokesman Tom Super said many chicken farmers are 
already taking steps recommended by the USDA.

   The USDA said 89% of the nation's poultry processing plants are now meeting 
the agency's performance standard for limiting salmonella in chicken parts. 
That is up from three years ago when only 71% of the plants met the standard.

   National Turkey Federation President Joel Brandenberger said the industry 
already shares ideas about the best ways to control salmonella so the companies 
look forward to participating in the USDA roundtables.

   "Because there are no simple solutions, improving food safety requires the 
type of collaborative approach USDA is advocating," Brandenberger said.

   Zach Corrigan of Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group that supports 
stricter food safety regulations, said it sounds like the USDA's new efforts 
are "a move in the right direction" but he still hopes the agency will do more 
to control salmonella by declaring that meat found to have the bacteria can't 
be sold to consumers.

   Currently, it is legal to sell raw chicken with salmonella bacteria on it, 
which is why health officials stress the need for safe handling of raw poultry, 
including thoroughly cooking the meat to kill potential germs. They also warn 
people should not rinse raw chicken, which can spray bacteria everywhere.

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