USDA Reveals New Safety Measures to Reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in Poultry

Published with permission by Food Safety Magazine.  Originally posted February 4, 2016.

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that the agency has finalized new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, chicken breasts, legs and wings.

According to FSIS, these new measures will lead to an average of 50,000 fewer foodborne illnesses annually.

FSIS hopes to meet a number of goals with these new standards:

  • Reduce Campylobacter illnesses by 32 percent
  • Reduce Salmonella illnesses from chicken parts, ground chicken and ground turkey by 30 percent
  • Reduce Campylobacter presence in ground turkey by 19 percent

“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. 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,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These new standards, in combination with greater transparency about poultry companies’ food safety performance and better testing procedures, will help prevent tens of thousands of foodborne illnesses every year, reaching our Healthy People 2020 goals.”

To test the food safety performance of establishments that prepare meat and poultry products, FSIS uses pathogen reduction performance standards. By making the standards for ground poultry tougher to meet, ground poultry products nationwide will have less contamination and therefore result in fewer foodborne illnesses. Even though it’s been 20 years since FSIS implemented performance standards for whole chickens, it has since been proven that levels of Salmonella contamination actually increases when whole chickens are further processed into smaller parts. These smaller parts–mainly wings and breasts–represent 80 percent of the chicken available to American consumers. Another part of these new standards is that FSIS has updated its microbial testing schedule at poultry facilities. This will be coupled with more of each company’s food safety performance details being posted online.

“This approach to poultry inspection is based on science, supported by strong data, and will truly improve public health,” says USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “The new performance standards will complement the many other proactive, prevention-based food policies that we’ve put in place in recent years to make America’s supply of meat and poultry safer to eat.”

Clearing a Misconception: Does Egg Color have any Correlation to the Health Benefits of the Egg?

Published with permission by Poultry Times.  Originally posted on November 9, 2016.

Written by Katie Keiger

Producers today are well aware of consumer’s desires to be healthy and eco-friendly. In the poultry industry, a potentially confusing topic is egg color.

Brown is associated with natural so it is easy for labels to boast brown eggs are healthier and that the chickens responsible for the eggs are raised in a more natural environment. That and the fact that more expensive items are normally considered more valuable can further jumble people’s opinions. Michigan State University Extension points out that egg colors can also be blue, white or green, but it typically just correlates with the chicken’s ear lobe not health.

“All eggs start out white in color, those that are laid in shades other than white have pigments deposited on them as the eggs travel through the hen’s oviduct,” Dorothy Munn of Michigan State University Extension said. “Ameraucana birds have the pigment oocyanin deposited on the egg…” The pigment makes Ameraucana birds have blue eggs. Chickens with brown eggs deposit the pigment protoporphyrin.

Whatever pigment is deposited in the chicken’s body onto the egg do not affect the inside of the egg. Yet those 26 hours the egg spends traveling through the mother hen determines in many people’s minds the price of the egg.

Consumer Reports hones in on the specific concerns of the public by putting white and brown eggs to a blind test. The nutrition of the eggs were not changed by the color, the diet of the chickens was what affected the eggs. If hens are given flax, marine algae and other ingredients that add omega-3 fatty acids to their eggs had five times or more omega-3 fatty acids than traditional eggs and vegetarian fed hens had more vitamins in their eggs.

The factors affecting taste was the same as that of the nutrition; the hen’s diet. Of course the older the egg the less tasteful the egg.

The Egg Nutrition Center agreed that color does not change chicken eggs in anyway, but they addressed some elements in eggs that do affect humans. Restricting egg consumption to egg whites limits the nutrition to a little more than half of that of a whole egg. The fat and cholesterol in the egg yolk will be lost, but the vitamins and other elements that absorb fats are also lost.

Egg yolk also contains carotenoid lutein and, consequently, stereoisomer zeaxanthin which in several studies have been proven to maintain eye health.

According to the Egg Nutrition Center, eggs contain high levels of vitamin D which is “essential for maintaining serum calcium and phosphate levels and in developing and maintaining healthy bones.” advises that the overall condition of the egg is determined by the egg grading program ran by the USDA. Eggs labeled B are normally used in liquid eggs, not available whole to the public in supermarket. Grade A and AA eggs have firmer and thicker whites and yolks that are free of defects such as blood spots and meat spots.


Preparing Poultry Houses for Winter and Cooler Weather

Published with permission by Poultry Times.  Originally posted on October 28, 2016.

Written by Katie Keiger

Unlike farms that only grow vegetables, poultry farms are active all year long and provide stable income through all seasons. However, each time of year brings along specific challenges and the winter months are difficult for birds.

Heat is easier to create in a building full of feathers, but harder to maintain especially if there is a leak. Dr. Tom Tabler, Jessica Wells and Dr. Wei Zhai of the Mississippi State University Extension service said that house tightness is most critical during the winter months not only for the health of the birds, but the efficiency of the farm.

MSU’s Eextension professors observed that air leak effects fuel costs as farm houses depend on it for air circulation and electricity. Outside walls should be checked for cracks, any curtains with flaps should be sealed and doors should be closed when not in use.

Tunnel flaps according to Tabler, Wells and Zhai are especially tricky being that they are heavier than most flaps because most of them come insulated. Insulated flaps need to be secured with strings and checked periodically in case of snapping strings. Tunnel doors should also be sealed, and there should be no holes in the vapor barrier or else heat will be lost.

Tabler also worked with the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture Extension Veterinarian Dr. F. Dustan Clark, Extension Poultry Specialist Dr Keith Bramwell and with research associate with the USDA-Agriculture Research Service Jonathan Moyle.

Clark, Bramwell, Moyle and Tabler also emphasize tightness, adding that tunnel curtains can snag at corners if not inspected closely.

Doors and flaps do not do much alone against the weather; the insulation is what is really guarding the birds. “Weather stripping or spray foam insulation to seal cracks and air leaks.” The University of Arkansas’ Extension Service said.

Windows, like some flaps, have insulation but should be kept tightly shut to ensure no heat escapes. Ceilings and sidewalls need to be checked for damage such as cracks, holes or anything that could compromise house tightness. Clark, Branwell, Moyle and Tabler said that turning off water hoses and wrapping exposed pipes in insulation will prevent water from freezing in the coldest months.

Cleanliness cannot wait for spring on a poultry farm, according to MSU. Ceiling fans need to be cleaned of dust and dirt to ensure maximum efficiency and ensure that not all the heat is kept at the higher areas. Fans that are not utilized during the winter should be covered.

The area around the birds is not the only thing to maintain, but also the litter and feed which can cause sky high profits in the winter if not checked. Feed lines, according to the University of Arkansas, need to be cleaned and inspected for clogs, preferably when there are no birds in the house. Keeping feed lids sealed is crucial, because it is especially desirable to rats and wild birds, some of which could be carrying diseases.

The University of Arkansas also stated that litter  amendments are needed to help with ammonia levels.

Ammonia smells strongly but gas leaks are just as potent and signal problems that require immediate action. MSU says that spraying bottles of soapy water on pipes may reveal gas leaks if bubbles appear. Gas leaks can be caused by high pressure.

“When pressure is too low, heating units will only produce a weak yellow flame…” Tabler, Wells and Zhai said. “While the problem is often associated with too little gas in the tanks, undersized piping inside and/or outside the chicken house also can cause it…”

The MSU Extension service suggests checking piping orifices to ensure no clogs from the warmer months before. It is important to keep in mind that propane and natural gas systems have different operating pressure. A four degree difference needs to be present between cooling and heating set points. Any less and MSU said that the systems will be in competition, resulting in heating and cooling systems running at the same time.

Temperature sensor placement logic has changed in that modern poultry farms have multiple levels and one is no longer enough to give an accurate heat measurement. The University of Arkansas suggests placing the temperature sensor by the floor where the birds are and attached to a water cable, with the sensor moving up along with the water cable.

The university further suggests keeping a daily tab on the temperature of each house and look for differences. The changes can indicate uneven distribution of energy or lack of efficiency in the separate houses.