Dems push for action on contaminated poultry


Senate Democrats are calling on the Obama administration to strengthen food safety standards to protect against the contamination of chicken and turkey products in grocery stores. 

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) said they were concerned about "startlingly" high rates of chicken breasts and ground chicken that are contaminated with pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter.

"We write to urge you to develop strong performance standards for poultry products that will significantly reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths," the senators wrote, in a letter sent this week to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "It is our view that you must address both Salmonella and Campylobacter in these standards."

The senators praised the Agriculture Department for working to reduce the levels of salmonella in chicken, but said they are concerned the agency has done little to address campylobacter contamination.

"We are encouraged to hear that your department will publish a new Salmonella standard for poultry parts before the end of September and for ground poultry products by the end of 2014," they wrote. "However, we are deeply discouraged to learn that your department has no timeline for when it will establish Campylobacter standards for these products."

The senators pointed to an Agriculture Department study that found more than 40 percent of ground chicken tested positive for salmonella, as well as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that found 47 percent of chicken breasts in grocery stores were infected with campylobacter.

The CDC reports that these two pathogens are responsible for nearly 2 million illnesses and 450 deaths each year.

"We are very concerned about the current levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter on poultry products, and believe new pathogen standards should reduce these rates of contamination," the senators wrote.