In a shift that will save money for businesses and taxpayers while improving food safety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing a modernization of young chicken and turkey slaughter inspection in the United States by focusing FSIS inspection resources on the areas of the poultry production system that pose the greatest risk to food safety.
"The modernization plan will protect public health, improve the efficiency of poultry inspections in the U.S., and reduce spending," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "The new inspection system will reduce the risk of foodborne illness by focusing FSIS inspection activities on those tasks that advance our core mission of food safety. By revising current procedures and removing outdated regulatory requirements that do not help combat foodborne illness, the result will be a more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars."
Currently, some FSIS employees in poultry establishments perform several activities which are unrelated to food safety, such as identifying visual defects like bruising, while others conduct the critical inspection activities. Under the proposed plan, all FSIS inspection activities will focus on critical food safety tasks to ensure that agency resources are tied directly to protecting public health and reducing foodborne illnesses. Additionally, some outdated regulatory requirements are being removed and replaced with more flexible and effective testing and process control requirements. Finally, all poultry establishments will now have to ensure that their procedures prevent contamination in the production process and provide supporting data to FSIS personnel.
By focusing inspectors only on the areas that are crucial to food safety, these changes will not only enhance consumer safety but will improve efficiency saving taxpayers more than $90 million over three years and lower production costs at least $256.6 million per year.
FSIS will continue to conduct on-line carcass-by-carcass inspection as mandated by law. This rule will allow FSIS personnel to conduct a more efficient carcass-by-carcass inspection with agency resources focused on more effective food safety measures. Data collected by the Agency over the past several years suggests that offline inspection activities are more effective in improving food safety. Inspection activities conducted off the evisceration line include pathogen sampling, and verifying that establishments are maintaining sanitary conditions and controlling food safety hazards at critical points in the production process.
The proposal was posted on the FSIS website at www.fsis.usda.gov/regulations_&_policies/Proposed_Rules/index.asp and soon will publish in the Federal Register. The comment period will end 90 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register and must be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS, OPPD, RIMD, Docket Clearance Unit, Patriots Plaza III, Room 8-164, 355 E Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-3221. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the Agency name and docket number, which will be assigned when it is published in the Federal Register.
According to a joint release from the National Turkey Federation and the National Chicken Council, the proposal is the logical outgrowth of nearly 15 years of outstanding industry performance under the Pathogen Reduction Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) rule. Additionally, a successful pilot program in effect since 1998 for 20 young chicken plants and five young turkey plants further indicates the proposed rule is the logical next step in the modernization of USDA inspection and the poultry industry supports the program’s expansion.
“The poultry industry has spent millions of dollars and has made tremendous progress on reducing naturally occurring pathogens in raw products,” the associations stated, “We've succeeded at meeting or exceeding FSIS' previous performance standards and we are confident that modernizing the poultry inspection system will enable us to build on our success in providing delicious, safe and wholesome food to our customers.”
“As new research expands our ability to respond to food safety issues, it is essential that we embrace new inspection approaches that keep pace with that knowledge,” said American Meat Institute Executive Vice President James H. Hodges. “While our knowledge has grown exponentially in the last two decades, there have been no major changes to our federal poultry inspection system during this period. We commend USDA for embracing science and we look forward to working with them as they finalize the rule and implement this new approach.”
Sources: FSIS, NTF, AMI