WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy said last week he wants the federal definition governing the use of the term "fresh" on poultry labels reexamined.
The Department of Agriculture currently allows poultry to be labeled "fresh" if the meat has never been at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
In directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to examine the "fresh" poultry definition, Espy said he wouldn't want any change to increase safety risks.
"We must also make sure that any policy change does not open the door to problems like the growth of bacteria that could cause food-borne illness," Espy said in a statement. "I want to make sure consumers get the information and safety protections they have the right to expect whenever they buy raw poultry products."
Last year the state of California adopted a new law which defines fresh poultry as products that have never been at or below 25 degrees.
However, implementation of the law has been put on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge by the National Broiler Council, the American Meat Institute and the Arkansas Poultry Federation. A hearing before a California judge is set for April 11.
The associations contend California's more stringent fresh standard can't contradict the federal standard. They also noted that the California law, if enacted, would virtually prohibit the sale of out-of-state poultry. Temperatures in trucks are sometimes set below 25 degrees to preserve poultry being transported long distances.
"We don't think consumers or the industry are well-served by limiting competition or the number of poultry producers serving the American consumers," said National Broiler Council President George Watts at the time of the California challenge.
In a statement regarding Espy's review of the federal fresh standard, the council asked that any review be delayed until after the California case is weighed. The council declined further comment.