USDA issues poultry inspection rule

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 31, 2014 - USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced the final rule for the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection,” which caps poultry processing plant line speeds at the current maximum level. 

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The proposal was first published in January 2012, and included a pilot program that had plants operating at 175 birds per minute. USDA said it responded to public concerns by capping line speeds for plants at 140 birds per minute, which is the maximum speed under existing inspection programs.  

Food safety groups like Food and Water Watch and some member of Congress, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., advocated against the pilot program when USDA issued its proposal, saying it would not allow enough time for inspection and would decrease the number of USDA inspectors in processing plants.

In today's announcement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the country has been relying on a poultry inspection model that dates back to 1957, “while rates of foodborne illness due to Salmonella and Campylobacter remain stubbornly high.”

According to the rule, poultry companies will also have to meet new requirements to control Salmonella and Campylobacter.

National Chicken Council (NCC) President Mike Brown praised USDA for moving forward with the rule, calling it “the top priority for our industry."

However, he criticized the cap on line speeds. “It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that politics have trumped sound science, 15 years of food and worker safety data and a successful pilot program,” he said, adding that broiler plants in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Belgium and Germany operate at line speeds of 200 or more birds per minute.

According to USDA, 5,000 foodborne illnesses will be prevented each year as a result of the updated process, known as the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

“The system we are announcing today imposes stricter requirements on the poultry industry and places our trained inspectors where they can better ensure food is being processed safely," Vilsack said.

FSIS will now require that all poultry companies take measures to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs.

Also for the first time, poultry facilities will be required to perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter.

FSIS is also introducing the optional NPIS, in which poultry companies must sort their own product for quality defects before presenting the products to FSIS inspectors. According to USDA, this system allows for FSIS inspectors to focus less on routine quality assurance tasks that have little relationship to preventing pathogens like Salmonella and instead focus more on strategies that are proven to strengthen food safety.

USDA said it will publish the final rule, which is available here, in the Federal Register.

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