Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday announced new performance standards for the poultry industry to use in knocking down Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination levels.

Vilsack said after two years under the new standards, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) estimates that 39,000 illnesses will be avoided each year under the new Campylobacter standard, and there will be 26,000 fewer illnesses with the revised Salmonella standard.

The first-ever Campylobacter standards and the first revised Salmonella standards since 1996 are targeted at establishments producing young chickens (broilers) and turkeys.

“There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the President’s Food Safety Working Group to lower the danger of foodborne illness,” Vilsack told reporters on a conference call.  “The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter.”

The performance standard for Salmonella in young chickens currently is 20 percent or no more tan 12 samples out of  51.  After the 60 day comment period when the new standard goes into effect, it will be 7.5 percent or no more than 5 sample tests positive out of 51.

USDA will continue to categorize establishments based on their history of test data.

The new Campylobacter standard is more complicated, and it is different from the method used for Salmonella.

The performance standard for Campylobacter is based on two percentages: one specifying the percentage of 1 ml portions that are positive, and the other specifying the percentage of total sample-specific positive results counting either the 1 ml or the 30 ml rinsate portions as positive.

To meet the Campylobacter performance standard, a broiler plant will have no more than 8 positive samples in the 1 ml portion; and 27 total positive samples out of 51 samples in either the 30 ml or 1 ml portion tests.

The method for testing Campylobacter has existed only since 2005.

In the conference call with reporters Vilsack declined to address whether non-O157:H7 strains of E. coli should be banned from meat and poultry.  He said he wanted to keep the attention on Salmonella and Campylobacter because they cause so many illnesses.

There is currently a multi-state outbreak of E. coli O145 underway.   It is one of the strains not currently defined as an adulterant, or impurity, in meat and poultry by FSIS.

FSIS is seeking comment on the performance standards and two compliance guides announced in the Federal Register Notice. FSIS expects to begin using the standards after analyzing the comments and, if necessary, making any adjustments.

“Preventing foodborne illness is the core mission of the Food Safety and Inspection Service and today’s announcement will help us reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter,” said Jerold Mande, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “We welcome comments on today’s announcement.”

Comments regarding the compliance guides document must be received within the 60 day comment period through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at, or by mail to: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Room 2-2127, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Mailstop 5474, Beltsville, MD 20705-5474. All submissions received through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or by mail must reference the Food Safety and Inspection Service and include the docket number “FSIS-2009-0034.”