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Claude Wyle
Claude Wyle
Attorney • 888-787-5718

Would a rubber chicken have been safer? Federal salmonella standards finally get tighter

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I know I am a San Francisco food safety attorney, so maybe I am more sensitive to dangerous foods and other products than the average guy, but does it seem strange that USDA is only now changing the amount of salmonella contamination in processed chicken carcasses from 20%, yes I said 20%, to 7.5%. While I am happy about the change, I have a hard time grasping the original level of 20%. Especially when the CDC estimates that there are 1.4 million cases of salmonella and more than 500 deaths annually from salmonella alone. Especially at risk for from food poisoning are children and the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

What especially upsets me is that the 20% level was determined based upon how much food contamination there was at the time the USDA set those levels. In other words, in 1996, when these levels were set, the average level of salmonella contamination was 20%, so the USDA set it as the maximum. Isn’t that s little bit like standing outside a bar and saying the average person coming out has a blood alcohol of .13, so let’s make that the limit?

Additionally, until now, campylobacter has not been regulated. The new standard for that contaminant is 10% for "highly contaminated" carcasses and 46% for "low level" contamination. In 2008, an estimated 40.2% chickens tested positive for campylobacter, which causes symptoms similar to salmonella, including diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever. The CDC estimates campylobacter infects 2.4 million Americans a year and kills 124.

How to Avoid Salmonella Poisoning

There are no treatments for salmonella food poisoning. The best way to avoid food poisoning is to protect yourself from salmonella altogether. The following are some basic steps to prevent salmonella poisoning.

  1. Wash Your Hands and Cooking Surfaces
  2. Clean Your Food
  3. Cook Food Properly
  4. Avoid Recalled Products
  5. Use Common Sense

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