WASHINGTON The Agriculture Department announced on Monday new standards to reduce the levels of salmonella and campylobacter in poultry, which the government said if successful, could prevent an estimated 65,000 illnesses each year.
USDA said stricter performance standards would hold slaughterhouses more accountable by reducing the incidence of foodborne illnesses in young chickens and turkeys. The plan would set a percentage of sampled poultry that could test positive for a specific pathogen that an establishment must achieve.
"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," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
The proposal is open to public comment for 60 days.
USDA said after two years, 39,000 illnesses will be avoided each year under the new campylobacter standards, and 26,000 fewer illnesses for revised salmonella standards.
The U.S. food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile outbreaks involving lettuce, peppers, peanuts and spinach in recent years, prompting calls from the Obama administration, consumer groups and Congress to overhaul the antiquated food supply.
Many firms including Kellogg Co, whose company lost nearly $70 million in products from the peanut recall, and ConAgra Foods have been among those affected.
The House passed food reform legislation last July. The Senate bill, which has been held up by work on healthcare and financial regulatory reform, is expected to pass its bill in the next few months.
The Obama administration organized a food safety working group last year that issued several recommendations to reduce levels of foodborne illnesses.
An estimated 76 million people in the United States get sick each year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Editing by Marguerita Choy)