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United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Myths & Facts
January 2002

Inaccuracies in Statements and News Articles Concerning the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP)

 

Myth: Under this pilot project, USDA inspectors are no longer inspecting product on the front line, but instead are just monitoring and overseeing plant operations.

Fact: USDA inspectors inspect and make a critical appraisal of each carcass. Carcass inspectors are placed at a fixed location on the slaughter line – just before birds go into the chiller – and continue to play a crucial role in protecting the public health by ensuring the safety of the meat and poultry supply. In addition to the carcass inspector, USDA also has an off-line verification inspector who selects a sample of carcasses and does a hands-on examination to ensure that plant personnel are appropriately handling any defects and to ensure the overall execution of a plant’s procedures.

Myth: The HIMP pilot is producing more contaminated product than is produced under traditional inspection.

Fact: Just as product produced under the HACCP inspection system, meat and poultry produced under the HIMP pilot is subject to the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act and their accompanying regulations. By locating carcass inspectors at the end of each slaughter line, USDA inspectors can and do stop the line when carcasses with fecal contamination or other food safety defects are found. Additionally, under HIMP, USDA inspectors actually conduct more product verification checks – 80 carcasses per line per shift under HIMP as compared to 20 carcasses under traditional inspection – to verify that the inspection system is working as intended.

Myth: The only reason that USDA is going forward with this inspection system is to allow plants to run their production lines faster.

Fact: HIMP creates an environment for innovation with new technologies. USDA is continuing this pilot project because preliminary results have shown marked reductions in food safety and non-food safety defects as compared to traditional inspection. Additionally, over 70% of inspection personnel working in HIMP plants believe that product safety is the same or better than it was under traditional inspection. While line speeds are not regulated under this project, USDA inspectors continue to have the responsibility and authority to step in to correct a situation if they feel that plant personnel are failing to appropriately handle defects and failing to properly execute their Pathogen Reduction/HACCP procedures and/or process control procedures. This may involve stopping the slaughter line.

Myth: Faster line speeds under the pilot project are resulting in product regularly leaving the plants with increased levels of fecal matter.

Fact: Data collected by Research Triangle Institute, an independent consulting firm, as well as verification data collected by USDA, indicate that fecal contamination has dramatically decreased under the HIMP system, as compared to the traditional inspection system. Under the HIMP system, USDA inspectors conduct off-line verification checks for fecal contamination four times more frequently than under traditional inspection. USDA inspectors also inspect each carcass at the end of the slaughter line for fecal contamination and have affected carcasses removed. While no system is perfect, and no food safety or non-food safety defects are acceptable to USDA, the HIMP system has increased the safety of poultry products.

Myth: USDA is moving forward with changing and expanding the HIMP pilot before receiving public comment and publishing proposed rulemaking.

Fact: USDA will not be moving forward with changing and expanding the HIMP pilot prior to rulemaking. USDA also intends to have a public meeting on the pilot project before beginning rulemaking. If additional changes to the pilot project are needed, they will be made. USDA already announced three proposed improvements to strengthen the HIMP pilot, which will be included later this year in proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register. (These improvements include: mandating formalized training for plant personnel that participate in HIMP; phasing in the implementation of HIMP and increasing participation in the HIMP program by allowing plants to volunteer for the project, with participants being required to adhere to specific criteria set by FSIS; and mandating that participating plants use statistical process control for quality defects.) As part of this process, USDA will continue to seek input from all interested parties – including public health, industry, and consumer groups as well as the general public – to strengthen the program. Regulatory changes will only be made when full sets of data have been collected and evaluated, and the data provide a reason for change. Notice and comment rulemaking for each species, with opportunity for open public comment, will be conducted before any changes are made.

Myth: The level of food poisoning in this country indicates that the traditional HACCP system of inspection, upon which the HIMP system is based, is a failure.

Fact: Data indicate that Pathogen Reduction/HACCP is successful in improving the safety of meat and poultry products. FSIS’ data show significant reductions in Salmonella prevalence across all meat and poultry product categories to which the Salmonella performance standards apply. In addition, since the implementation of HACCP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported reductions in the incidence of foodborne illness associated with meat and poultry products and several of the pathogens the Agency is targeting.

Myth: USDA had its own inspectors collect project data after realizing that data from the independent contractor were not favorable.

Fact: USDA front-line inspectors collect verification data in HIMP plants daily as part of their regulatory duties. These USDA verification inspectors collect product samples to verify that plant personnel are appropriately handling any defects and to ensure that plants are meeting the performance standards set for the pilot. These verification checks involve data collection. This data has been collected, by in-plant USDA inspectors over a longer time frame than that collected by the contractor. USDA first reported this data on its web site in June 2001.

To date, only partial results from RTI, in 11 out of 16 young chicken plants where RTI collected data, have been released. USDA will base its decisions on this project on complete sets of data from RTI, as well as other sources.

Myth: Problems with the project will continue to grow once the project is incorporated into the inspection system.

Fact: FSIS has been continuously evaluating and making improvements to HIMP. These continuous improvements are succeeding in improving the pilot project. Plants that are permitted to operate under HIMP would be held accountable for meeting the performance standards and all other regulatory requirements.

 

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For Further Information, Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-9113
Fax: (202) 690-0460

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