USDA Proposes Rule to Update Poultry Slaughter Inspection System

January 20, 2012

Poultry Industry Supports Modernization and Flexibility to Improve Food Safety

Washington, D.C. – January 20, 2012 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced a long-awaited proposed rule that would modernize the poultry slaughter inspection system in the United States.

The proposed rule will lead to a revamped inspection system that allows federal inspectors in young chicken and turkey processing plants to shift to prevention-oriented inspection systems and allows USDA to redeploy its resources in a manner that better protects the public from foodborne diseases.

Under the rule, federal inspectors would be stationed at the end of the production line to verify every poultry carcass meets the federal regulations.  This rule would allow USDA inspectors more flexibility to patrol the processing plant and provide scientific oversight to ensure the plant is meeting the required food safety performance standards.  Plant employees would have an expanded role in inspecting carcasses for quality standards on the inspection line.  USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) inspectors will remain in processing plants during operation.

This proposal is the logical outgrowth of nearly 15 years of outstanding industry performance under the Pathogen Reduction Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) rule.  Implemented in 1998, the HACCP rule began transforming USDA inspection to a more modern, science-based program by requiring meat and poultry plants to conduct a thorough analysis of where the greatest risks to food safety existed and to identify the critical points where those risks could best be controlled.

USDA monitors plants’ process control by measuring the prevalence of Salmonella on the products produced in the plant.  Plants are expected to have lower Salmonella prevalence when measured against “baseline” sampling taken at the outset of the HACCP program.

“The poultry industry has spent millions of dollars and has made tremendous progress on reducing naturally occurring pathogens in raw products,” the National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation said in a joint statement.  “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.”

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.

Plants participating in the pilot program operate under the same stringent standards of microbiological performance as other processing plants while (similar to the proposed new rule) allowing plant personnel to conduct some visual inspection duties.  Since USDA began ranking plants by category of performance in 2008, these plants have consistently been in the best-performing category — exceeding the standard by a wide margin.

“The continued outstanding performance of plants participating in the pilot program justifies USDA’s confidence in announcing this proposed rule,” the poultry groups said in their joint statement.   “We are committed to working with USDA to ensure a science-based food inspection system works in a manner that would vastly improve food safety by using modern methods in the inspection system.”

Numerous studies have concluded that HACCP programs in poultry processing plants are working and have significantly reduced the incidence of pathogens and have prevented outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.

“We look forward to carefully reviewing the complete details of proposed rule and we are pleased that USDA has afforded the industry the opportunity to provide comment,” the groups concluded.

The proposal was posted today on the FSIS website 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.

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