USDA publishes final amended rule for poultry inspection

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2014 - The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today published its final amended rule for the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection,” adding a fifth program for young chicken and all turkey processing plants after what it calls a successful 15-year trial.

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Under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), government inspectors who previously helped sort poultry carcasses will be moved to the end of the slaughter process to conduct carcass-by-carcass inspections for food safety problems after company employees have already checked carcasses for sores and bruises. Each inspection line will also have one off-line inspector taking samples for microbial testing, examining plant and equipment sanitation, observing company employees, and conducting other food safety activities.

FSIS said the current inspection system, which dates back to 1957, emphasized visual carcass inspection, but a new approach will allow a renewed focus on contamination prevention instead of looking for “visual defects such as bruises, scabs, or sores.”

“While these defects may pose a concern for the marketability of the product, they pose little or no threat to food safety,” FSIS said in a document on its website.

Under NPIS, the production line at young chicken facilities will continue to move at the rate of 140 birds per minute, while the line at turkey facilities will be speeded up slightly, from 51 birds per minute to 55.

The final rule comes after a two year review of the more than 250,000 responses the government received during a 120-day comment period in 2012. The announcement of a pending rule was made at the end of July, but the final rule's full text was published today.

USDA estimates NPIS will prevent nearly 5,000 foodborne illnesses each year. Groups including the National Chicken Council (NCC) call the rule “the top priority for our industry.” Opponents such as Food and Water Watch and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., say NPIS will not allow enough time for inspection and will reduce the number of USDA inspectors in processing plants.

The rule goes into effect Oct. 20, and companies seeking to operate under NPIS have until Feb. 23, 2015, to notify USDA of their plans to do so. Companies have the option of continuing under their current inspection program.

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