Inspection for Food Safety: The Basics
- USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring the safety, wholesomeness, and accurate labeling of meat, poultry, and processed egg products.
- FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act, which require Federal inspection and regulation of meat, poultry, and processed egg products prepared for distribution in commerce for use as human food. FSIS also verifies and enforces industry compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that all livestock inspected under the FMIA are humanely handled.
- FSIS employs 8,000 in-plant and other frontline personnel who protect public health in 6,200 federally inspected slaughter and processing establishments, in laboratories, and in commerce nationwide.
- Industry is accountable for producing safe food.
- FSIS is responsible for conducting inspections of each animal carcass, setting appropriate food safety standards, verifying those safety standards through inspection, and maintaining a strong enforcement program when plants do not meet these standards.
- Slaughter facilities cannot conduct slaughter operations if FSIS inspection personnel are not present and inspecting each carcass.
- Only federally inspected and passed products can enter interstate commerce or be exported to foreign countries.
- To receive Federal inspection, an establishment must receive an official Grant of Inspection. To obtain this, an establishment must have Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, conduct a hazard analysis, develop and validate a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, and agree to abide by all FSIS regulations.
- FSIS conducts carcass-by-carcass inspection at all federally inspected meat and poultry slaughter facilities and verifies that these establishments follow all food safety and humane handling requirements.
- FSIS inspection program personnel verify that the establishment maintains proper sanitation procedures, and also that the establishment follows its HACCP plan and complies with all FSIS regulations pertaining to slaughter and processing operations.
- If the establishment fails to maintain sanitation, does not follow its HACCP plan, or violates other regulations, FSIS inspection program personnel issue a citation to the establishment documented as a noncompliance record. If necessary, inspectors can take regulatory control actions including suspending inspection.
- Cattle slaughter and processing establishments must maintain written procedures for removing, segregating, and disposing of specified risk materials (SRMs) in order to prevent their entry into the food supply.
- SRMs are tissues deemed to be a high-risk because they could potentially carry the material associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as BSE or mad cow disease).
- SRMs include the brain, skull, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, vertebral column, and dorsal root ganglia of cattle 30 months of age and older; and the tonsils and distal ileum of all cattle.
Arrival of live animals
- FSIS inspection at a slaughter establishment begins before slaughter, when live animals arrive at the establishment. FSIS personnel have the authority to inspect trucks offloading animals, and the pens or other areas in which they are kept prior to slaughter.
- Livestock slaughter establishments are required to comply with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, goats, swine, and other livestock be humanely handled and slaughtered.
- All incidents of inhumane handling trigger enforcement actions. A non-egregious noncompliance for humane handling such as not having water available for the animals in their pens would trigger a noncompliance record or other regulatory enforcement action.
- Egregious violations of humane handling requirements lead to more severe enforcement actions, such as suspension or withdrawal of FSIS inspection, which prevents a plant from operating.
- During antemortem inspection, animals are viewed at rest and in motion for abnormalities as well as indications of disease or health conditions that would prohibit the animal from entering the food supply, or require additional inspection.
- If cattle become non-ambulatory disabled at any time prior to slaughter, they must be condemned, promptly and humanely euthanized, and disposed of. FSIS prohibits non-ambulatory disabled cattle from use in human food because non-ambulatory behavior in cattle is a possible symptom of BSE. Regulations strictly prohibit the dragging of a conscious animal that is unable to walk.
- FSIS is strictly enforcing safeguards designed to protect consumers from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which has been linked to the consumption of beef products contaminated with BSE.
Review of the carcass and examination of the meat
- FSIS inspectors stationed at fixed positions along the slaughter line are known as on-line inspectors who look for signs of disease or pathological conditions that would render a carcass or even a portion of the carcass unwholesome or unfit for human consumption.
- Any carcass in need of further diagnosis or disposition is segregated for examination and final disposition by the FSIS veterinarian.
- The establishment must maintain the identity of every carcass and ensure that the segregated carcasses do not enter the food supply unless passed without restriction by FSIS.
- Only if FSIS inspectors determine a carcass is without general signs of disease or pathological condition, it can be passed without restriction and enter the food supply. Partial and limited conditions in the carcass must be removed, or the carcass is not permitted into the food supply.