Standards to prevent 50,000 illnesses through reductions in Salmonella and Campylobacter set by USDA last week might just work. If they do, Americans who yesterday are said to have dined on 1.3 billion chicken wings during Super Bowl 50, are likely to take notice. wings with ranch And one year from now, it’s also likely Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will be leaving office as the longest serving USDA boss in 50 years. His food safety record will include taking E. coli in beef contamination from a threat to an irritant. If his changes in poultry inspection and standards are added to that, his food safety legacy at USDA would rival most who’ve preceded him. “Over the past seven years, USDA has put in place tighter and more strategic food safety measures than ever before for meat and poultry products,” said Vilsack. “We have made strides in modernizing every aspect of food safety inspection, from company record keeping, to labeling requirements, to the way we perform testing in our labs.” The new standards call for poultry producers to lower their annual rate of Salmonella in raw chicken parts to no more than 15.4 percent, down from the 24 percent USDA is now finding, and to cut campylobacter from 22 percent today to 7.7 percent. Vilsack said the new standards and greater transparency about poultry companies’ performance and testing will prevent thousands of illnesses each year. He said USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will use the pathogen performance standards to measure food safety. To meet the tougher standards producers will have to reduce contamination, which is expected to result in fewer foodborne illnesses. FSIS focus on poultry parts puts it’s measures closer to the retail produce. “This approach to poultry inspection is based on science, supported by strong data, and will truly improve public health,” said Al Almanza, USDA deputy under secretary for food safety. “The new performance standards will complement the many other proactive, prevention-based policies that we’ve put in place in recent years to make America’s supply of meat and poultry safer to eat.” Almanza is also the acting administrator of FSIS. The goals of the new poultry regs are a 30 percent reduction in illnesses from Salmonella and a 32 percent reduction in illnesses related chicken parts and ground Chicken overall. The reduction for Campylobacter in ground chicken is 19 percent because it is starting from a lower point. Producers will be getting pass, meet or fail grades beginning as soon as they’ve undergone a full set of testing under the new standards. Whether that happens probably depends on whether Vilsack can enlist the poultry industry — including the National Turkey Federation and the National Chicken Council — to take the new standards as serious as their beef industry counterparts did when they developed standard practices to combat E. coli. The new standards are targeted at reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products — both of which have been problematic — plus breasts, legs and those ever-popular wings. Industry buy-in is critical. But so, too, is political support. The two Democrats who are often seen as food safety leaders, U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., are giving Vilsack somewhat half-hearted support. They say the standards improve the fight against foodborne illnesses, but they still want USDA to declare salmonella an adulterate in poultry. They also want to give USDA authority to order recalls. Those powers, however, would require action by Congress because USDA cannot give itself that authority. The industry is sounding supportive, while not exactly standing up to salute the changes. Poultry companies are looking for way to reduce contamination and get tougher on pathogens, temperature controls and processing, according to Ashley Peterson, senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the National Chicken Council. “This is something the industry has been proactively working to address,”she told the Des Moines Register. Lisa Wallendas Picard, vice president for science and regulatory affairs at the National Turkey Federation, said that group is “engaged in an ambitious, ongoing effort to lower the count of those microbes to the lowest point possible for raw meat and poultry products.” To give companies an incentive, USDA plans to publish the performance on each poultry producer online. Testing will be weekly, instead of 52 days in row. Chicken parts — legs, breasts and wings, account for 80 percent of sales. Yesterday, the sale of 1.3 billion chicken wings was enough stretch from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., to Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver almost 53 times. “Any way you measure it, that’s a lot of freaking wings,” noted Tom Super, senior vice president of communications at the National Chicken Council. FSIS published a Salmonella Action Plan in 2013 as the agency’s blueprint for addressing the threat raised by the pathogen. The new standards are said to complete the major steps called for in that plan. Meat, poultry and eggs — the products falling under USDA’s jurisdiction — account for about 360,000 to the 1.2 million food borne illnesses caused by Salmonella, according to federal officials. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)