Status for Implementation of Visual-Only Meat Inspection in Swine
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, SafePork 2015, September 7, 2015, Porto, Portugal
Good afternoon. I’m Al Almanza, the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all today. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about some of your experiences with visual-only implementation and I look forward to sharing how the United States is looking to modernize our hog inspection.
I’d like to start off with a little background about the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is the agency that I lead.
The United States Congress authorizes FSIS to inspect all meat, poultry, and processed egg products in interstate commerce.
Today, tens of billions of pounds of meat and poultry and billions of pounds of liquid egg products are produced, transported, and sold every year. American consumers spend about 617 billion dollars annually on food, with purchases of meat and poultry making up a large portion of that total.
FSIS employs a host of skilled professionals from inspectors to scientists to mathematicians, who form a dynamic workforce.
Science drives our policy and informs our inspection so that we are prepared to address food safety threats.
Our scientists are experts in microbiology, chemistry, and toxicology. They evaluate existing and emerging hazards in meat, poultry, and processed egg products and assist in investigating national and international outbreaks, monitor current and emerging foodborne threats, and advise leadership on matters of science to improve policies and programs.
Throughout our history, FSIS’ science-based regulations and sampling practices have been focused on prevention of foodborne illness.
The United States is in the process of granting some Member States recognition of visual postmortem inspection of swine.
We must stress that individual Member States are required to meet a set of special conditions with regard to the measure’s implementation in establishments certified for export to the United States.
The requirements that member states must meet are listed in the slide above.
As a former food inspector myself, I can tell you that our priority at FSIS is food safety and careful inspection so we take these steps seriously. I will be happy to answer any questions following the presentation.
We are always focused on improving our programs by looking at different ways to modernize. That’s why I’m very glad to attend this conference to learn from all of your experiences in inspection modernization and to also share some of our developments from the United States.
Our policies define the way that our inspectors work. When we implemented the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points rule in 1996, the rule required every establishment to have a HACCP plan in place.
This process requires establishments to think about all of the hazards along the slaughter and production process to control and reduce risks and to ensure a safe product for consumers. Inspectors must be present to verify that the HACCP system is functioning as intended.
The traditional inspection model requires that FSIS online inspectors examine the head, viscera, and carcass of each animal at postmortem for visible defects and direct establishment employees to take appropriate corrective actions if the defects can be corrected through trimming or reprocessing.
FSIS online inspectors also identify carcasses and parts with visible animal diseases for further examination by a Public Health Veterinarian. Establishment employees then dispose of any condemned carcasses under FSIS supervision.
Meanwhile, FSIS offline inspectors verify implementation of the establishment’s food safety system by performing HACCP, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (Sanitation SOPs), and other prerequisite program verification procedures.
I hope that provides you with an overview of our current system and I will now talk about our focus on modernization.
Like the EU, the U.S. is committed to using technology to modernize our hog slaughter program.
Before we make changes, we are carefully evaluating how these activities will affect the rate of pathogens by using sampling data from our labs across the United States.
Our science-based regulations and sampling programs focus on prevention of foodborne illness and we are specifically analyzing how changes in our current activities will affect pathogen prevention.
Currently, there are twenty young chicken, five young turkey, and five market hog slaughter establishments participating in HIMP.
The purpose of the FSIS HIMP pilot program is to determine whether the HIMP inspection system performs as well as the traditional inspection system in terms of food safety and product wholesomeness. We have found that it does.
Overview of HIMP
Since 2000, we have had five large market hog establishments that have participated in Market Hog HIMP, which is one of our pilot programs for swine modernization. We are currently analyzing the data of this program.
Under HIMP, postmortem online inspectors are located at up to three fixed locations along the slaughter lines:
- in the area where the carcass and head are separated;
- where the carcass and viscera are separated; and
- at the pre-wash verification location.
FSIS inspectors still perform both online and offline postmortem inspection tasks.
In the HIMP pilot program, inspectors conducted more offline inspection tasks then they did under traditional inspection.
Postmortem online inspection takes place after establishment employees have already sorted the carcasses and parts, disposed of carcasses and parts that they have identified as having condemnable conditions, and conducted any trim and reprocessing they believe necessary to correct removable defects.
Postmortem offline inspection consists of system verifications through which FSIS continuously monitors and evaluates establishment process control. FSIS offline inspectors conduct HACCP, Sanitation SOP, and other prerequisite program verification procedures.
Overall, FSIS inspectors performed 1.4 times more offline verification inspection procedures in HIMP market hog establishments than in non-HIMP market hog establishments.
During the inspection process, the inspector observes and incises the mandibular lymph nodes along the jaw on every head. Lungs are also routinely palpated as the inspector palpates the bronchial lymph nodes. In addition, intestinal lymph nodes are routinely palpated as they are fanned for observation by the inspector.
One way FSIS is modernizing is through the use of risk assessments. Risk assessments enable the agency to utilize a scientific approach to identify and evaluate possible threats, and to determine what public health benefits might be seen from changes in Agency policies.
Our Office of Public Health Science uses these risk assessments to develop our performance standards. This method analyzes the occurrence of pathogens present in FSIS regulated products and the relationship between that pathogen prevalence and human illness.
By using this approach, FSIS can develop performance standards that are designed target a specific reduction in illnesses.
Phase 1 of our Pork Exploratory Sampling Program is another example of how we use science and data to drive our agency decisions.
Having seen the illnesses associated with pork consumption, we are conducting sampling and performing lab tests to explore the presence and levels of Salmonella and other pathogens in various pork products.
During this exploratory survey, 200 samples are being analyzed for optional targets.
This survey started in May 2015 and is scheduled to continue through the end of this month.
Phase 1 results will determine which pork products should continue to be sampled during Phase 2 or if other products should be considered.
Approximately 475 samples have been received through July and we have analyzed around 375.
Approximately 175 samples have been analyzed for the optional targets.
The results from this survey will point us in the direction of which pork products we should consider developing Salmonella performance standards for.
In addition to our focus on the health of consumers, FSIS works to ensure that animals are treated humanely.
Humane handling and slaughter of livestock improves animal welfare, makes handling of animals easier, and improves the quality of meat product.
Establishments voluntarily sort and segregate animals that show signs of abnormalities or diseases from healthy animals before the Agency performs antemortem inspection. FSIS requires these establishments to document their segregation procedures in their HACCP plan or a prerequisite program.
As a result, FSIS inspectors examine all animals found to be normal by the establishment at rest, and five to ten percent of all animals in motion.
FSIS inspectors direct establishment employees to move abnormal animals to designated U.S. Suspect pens for final disposition by a Public Health Veterinarian. FSIS inspectors observe establishment employees performing segregation procedures at least once per month.
FSIS’ transparent risk assessments, coupled with the public comment process for establishing new regulations, makes for one of the safest food supplies and most trusted inspection systems in the world.
We take the input we receive from both industry and consumers very seriously and the feedback we get often helps shape new policies.
In addition, a large part of our work deals with consumer education and outreach.
Food safety is especially important for those at a higher risk of foodborne illness, such as older adults, pregnant women, young children, and those with weakened immune systems.
Just as we are focusing on modernizing with science and technology, we are also modernizing the way we communicate to our consumers and stakeholders.
These are just some of the ways that FSIS is working to communicate with our stakeholders and consumers so that they will have the safest food possible.
Our number one priority will always be food safety.
We will continue developing methods to make our pork products as safe as we can so that consumers from all over the world can enjoy them without having to worry about getting sick.
We’ll do this by using risk assessments and constantly evaluating our technology and modernization methods.
I have enjoyed being here with all of you. As technology and science evolve, the value of relationships and face-to-face meetings has not diminished.
Strong relationships and the opportunity for government and academic leaders to observe other inspection systems remain crucial to ensuring global food safety.
USDA and FSIS are committed to working closely and transparently with foreign governments and industry to make sure the policies we put forward are firmly rooted in the best science that is available.
I would now like to take any questions you might have. Thank you.