WASHINGTON — The government has ordered that starting within 60 days, raw or partly cooked ground meat and poultry products must carry labels with instructions on how to safely handle and cook them.
"The safe cooking and handling labels will help provide essential health and safety information to consumers," Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy said in a statement.
"Hopefully, the 20-years debate regarding this simple, but vital label is over," the secretary said.
The Agriculture Department said also that all other not-ready-to-eat meat and poultry products must have the labels by July 6.
After that date, the government will also require nutrition labeling on processed meats and poultry products such as chicken franks and corned beef. The instructions on the labels will include how to safely store the meats, cooking instructions and how to store leftovers as well as preparation of the meat.
The requirement is one in a series of steps by the government to assure food safety in the wake of an outbreak of food-borne illness that killed three people and made more than 350 ill in the Pacific Northwest in January, 1993.
A consumer group, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, said the labels "will prevent thousands of illnesses and will almost certainly save lives." But, it said, further steps are needed to modernize meat production and inspection.