|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has implemented a new food safety strategy to improve the public health focus of its in-plant, meat and poultry inspection program and better address food safety hazards that arise not only within plants, but throughout the farm-to-table continuum.
Within plants, FSIS is requiring the industry to implement HACCP-based systems that prevent food safety problems. FSIS also is developing new inspection models for plants that slaughter generally healthy, uniform animals to better define what FSIS inspection personnel and the regulated industry should do under this HACCP-based system. The current system constrains the Agency's ability to fully address current public health risks in the food supply. To better address hazards throughout the farm-to-table continuum, FSIS also plans to redeploy some inspectors currently assigned within plants to sample and verify the safety and wholesomeness of meat and poultry in the storage, transportation, and retail sectors of the food production chain (referred to as "in-distribution").
To begin the process of better defining what inspection personnel and the regulated industry should do under HACCP, on June 10, 1997, FSIS published a Federal Register notice explaining the project and soliciting public input. On June 24, 1997, FSIS held its first public meeting on the HACCP-based inspection models project. On July 27, 1998, FSIS held a second public meeting, during which Agency officials presented their current thinking on the project, presented draft inspection models, and presented a draft paper that lists those diseases and conditions the Agency considers to pose food safety risks or hazards, and those that address consumer protection issues other than safety. In addition to receiving input at these public meetings, FSIS has received written comments and extensive input from the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection.
This paper provides an update on activities that have occurred since the July public meeting and supplements the July 1998 backgrounder entitled HACCP-Based Inspection Models, which is available on the website at www. fsis.usda.gov or by calling the FSIS Publications Office at (202) 720-9352.
As of Dec. 2, 1998, five slaughter plants are participating in the HACCP-based inspection models project. All plants slaughter young, healthy, and uniform animals. The plants are: Jennie-O Foods, Inc., Wilmar, MN, a turkey plant; Hatfield, Inc., Hatfield, PA, a swine plant; Rocco Farm Foods, Edinburg, VA, a poultry plant; Quality Pork Processors, Austin, MN, a swine plant; and Goldkist Inc., Guntersville, AL., a poultry plant. (Claxton Poultry Farms, Claxton, Ga., a poultry plant, has deferred participation in the project until next year.) FSIS also plans to expand the pilot project to include more plants.
Baseline data are being collected in the pilot plants to document the accomplishments of the current inspection system. FSIS has contracted with Research Triangle Institute, an independent consulting firm, to collect both microbiological and organoleptic data. Data will again be collected when the alternative inspection approaches, or models, are tested to provide a "before" and "after" picture.
Baseline data collection began at two plants participating in the project--Rocco Farm Foods, Edinburg, VA, a poultry plant; and Hatfield, Inc., Hatfield, PA, a swine plant--in August, and began at the other three plants shortly afterwards. Baseline data collection has ended in all five plants. When additional plants are accepted into the pilot project, baseline data collection will be scheduled in those plants as well.
Under the draft in-plant models, the Agency envisions plants conducting various pre-slaughter and post-slaughter activities. All plant activities will be under FSIS inspection oversight and verification. For example, plant employees would remove unacceptable carcasses and parts, under continuous inspection oversight by FSIS at the slaughter line. Only plants that slaughter young, healthy, and uniform animals are being allowed to participate in the pilot.
At the July public meeting, FSIS presented a theoretical model for young chickens and a theoretical model for market hogs and fed cattle. Because no plants that slaughter fed cattle are currently participating in the project, FSIS is currently focusing its resources on developing the models for young poultry and market hogs. FSIS expects testing of these models to begin in early 1999.
As part of the models development process, FSIS is now further defining the inspection procedures--oversight and verification--that inspectors will be performing. Oversight inspection activities consist of continuous inspector observation of the establishments HACCP and process control systems, including those addressing ante-mortem and post-mortem procedures. Verification inspection activities consist of the inspector sampling and carefully examining product and associated documents produced under plant control systems to make sure food safety and other consumer protection standards are met. A separate Key Facts entitled Slaughter Inspection Under the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project addresses oversight inspection and verification inspection activities.
In November 1998, FSIS made available a draft report on the model it is developing to address food safety during the storage, transportation, and retail sale stages of the food production chain. The Report, In-distribution Inspection Pilot Test Project, is available on the FSIS website at www.fsis.usda.gov.
FSIS is testing the feasibility of significantly increasing the frequency of certain tasks that are now performed outside of federally inspected plants as well as adding new tasks designed to improve food safety. Activities to be performed under the model include: reviews of food-related businesses and allied industries; product sampling; follow-up inquiries on consumer complaints; recall effectiveness checks; education of state and local food safety agencies and consumers; and data collection and special projects.
FSIS has identified three locations to test the in-distribution models--Philadelphia-Hatfield, PA; Harrisonburg, VA; and Minnesota. These locations were selected because of their proximity to the locations for the in-plant models and because they represent an urban area, a rural area, and a combination urban-rural area. Proximity to the locations for the in-plant models is desirable because it is possible during the models testing phase that in-plant resources could be used to perform some in-distribution tasks.
At its third public meeting on the HACCP-based inspection models project, FSIS is presenting more specific information on the inspection models project, a briefing on data collected during the baseline phase at the first five plants, and the Agency's current thinking on the oversight inspection and verification inspection activities to be carried out during the testing of the models.
On August 20, 1998, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report on food safety entitled, "Ensuring Safe Food From Production to Consumption." The study, which was designed to determine the scientific and organizational needs of an effective food safety system, was completed at the request of Congress.
The study is relevant to the HACCP-based inspection models project because NAS addressed the issue of the inspection of all carcasses, describing the requirement as an impediment to improving meat and poultry safety. FSIS believes that changes are needed in the current inspection system, and that the HACCP-based inspection models project will objectively examine what those changes should be. However, the Agency does not favor the elimination of the statutory requirement for carcass inspection for two reasons. First, the existing statutory framework provides FSIS with ample authority and flexibility to build an effective, risk-based inspection system. Second, organoleptic inspection has served the public well by removing defects that can be detected by visual inspection. It remains key to verifying that plants have effectively removed visible fecal contamination and serves to protect the public from animal diseases and conditions that should be removed from the food supply.
General inquiries on the models project:
FSIS Steering committee on the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project:
Media Inquiries: (202) 720-9113
Congressional Inquiries: (202) 720-3897
Constituent Inquiries: (202) 720-8594
Consumer Inquiries: Call USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. In the Washington, DC, area, call (202) 720-3333. The TTY number is 1-800-256-7072.
FSIS Web site: http://www.fsis.usda.gov
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-3897
Fax: (202) 720-5704
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