The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a poultry slaughter inspection rule that would increase oversight of poultry processors’ sanitary practices and contamination controls instead of checking each chicken and turkey for visual defects, saving the industry $250 million a year, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The revisions to the current system could prevent 5,200 foodborne illnesses a year by modernizing and making methods more efficient, taking the emphasis off visual imperfections that can harm poultry sales rather than improve safety, said Vilsack.

The U.S. could save as much as $40 million a year within two or three years, partly through the elimination of inspection jobs. The USDA would continue to inspect poultry carcasses at the end of production lines before they're chilled, and would be on-site at all times. Slaughter operators would have the option of requesting the U.S. continue the visual inspections, according to the proposed regulation. Poultry slaughter operations would have to develop written procedures to prevent contamination and a program to control sanitation, as well as sampling and analysis. Such guidelines are currently voluntary.

The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposal.