An Overview of the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) protects the public health by ensuring the safety of the meat and poultry supply. As part of these efforts, FSIS continues to reevaluate and make improvements to the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP). The inspection procedures employed in the project appear to improve food safety and other consumer protections.
Because data collection is only complete in young chicken plants, this species will be the first considered for a regulatory change. In order to implement any nationwide changes based on the models pilot project, a change in the poultry regulations will be required. FSIS is drafting a proposed rule to make these regulatory changes .
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is committed to continually improving the system that safeguards the meat and poultry supply. An essential first step in achieving that goal was accomplished with publication in the July 25, 1996 Federal Register of the final rule on Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems. The rule required plants to implement science-based process control systems as a means of preventing food safety hazards, set certain food safety performance standards, and established testing programs to ensure that those standards are met. Inspectors have been assigned new tasks that enable them to ensure that regulatory performance standards are met.
Under HACCP, plants identify and evaluate the food safety hazards that could affect the safety of their products and institute controls necessary to prevent those hazards from occurring or to keep them within acceptable limits. However, HACCP inspection is not applied to the slaughter process.
HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project
HIMP is an effort to determine how FSIS can improve the use of its online slaughter inspectors and continue to ensure the reduction and/or elimination of defects that pass through traditional inspection.
FSIS has developed three slaughter models - one for young poultry (including turkeys), one for market hogs, and one for fed cattle (steers/heifers). These classes of animals were selected because they tend to be young, healthy, and uniform. The project applies only to plants that slaughter these healthy, young animals. The models describe the baseline data collection phase and the steps in the project through which plants will demonstrate their ability to match the achievements of the current system.
In the pilot phase, up to 25 plants that slaughter young chickens, turkeys, and hogs are currently participating in the project, although all are not yet testing models at this time. The majority of participating plants are young chicken plants. A complete listing of participating plants is available.
The study design for the HIMP pilot was established to measure the accomplishments of the traditional inspection system and the accomplishments of the models inspection system. Realizing the impracticality of using a truly random sample for this pilot inspection system, FSIS instead opted to use volunteers. Any plant already operating under HACCP that slaughtered young, healthy, uniform animals was invited to volunteer for this pilot project. The volunteer plants participating in the HIMP study are representative of the industry. These volunteer plants represent diversity in geography, corporate structure, management styles, numbers of processing lines, product distribution patterns, inspection systems in use prior to the pilot, and other variables.
Under this project, FSIS has established performance standards for food safety (FS) and non-food safety defects (also known as "other consumer protections" or OCP) found in young chickens, hogs, and turkeys. A complete listing of performance standards is available.
The food safety performance standards are set at zero to protect consumers from conditions that may be harmful. The OCP performance standards were developed by evaluating the achievements under the traditional system. Based on these evaluations, more stringent criterion, requiring improved plant performance, were developed. The OCP performance standards have been set at the 75th percentile of what is achieved under the current, traditional method of inspection; thus, 25 percent of the plants in each category have to improve upon their baseline results in order to meet the more stringent standards. Participating plants must revise their HACCP systems to meet these food safety performance standards and establish process control systems to address the OCP concerns.
No food safety or non-food safety defects are acceptable to FSIS. While no system is perfect, the models project is an effort to reduce and eliminate defects that pass through traditional inspection. Under this project, FSIS conducts inspection of each carcass with increased verification to ensure that performance standards are met. FSIS inspectors also check for fecal contamination and other organoleptic food safety defects four times more frequently under the models project than under the traditional system.
To ensure that the new system performs in a manner equivalent to the current system, in August 1998, FSIS began collecting microbial and organoleptic baseline data on the traditional system to provide a picture of plant performance before the models were tested. FSIS contracted with Research Triangle Institute (RTI), an independent consulting firm, for baseline data collection.
In October 1999, FSIS began the models phase of HIMP. The models phase consists of two parts - the transition phase and the data collection phase. Under the transition phase, participating plants began assuming their new responsibilities, and FSIS began new inspection procedures. Under the data collection phase, organoleptic and microbial data are collected to determine the achievements of the new system. FSIS has also contracted with RTI for data collection under the models phase. RTI concluded its data collection and presented it to the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection in June 2002.
Inspection Procedures under the Models Project
Under the revised design, FSIS has placed a carcass inspector at a fixed point. This inspector conducts an examination to make a critical appraisal on each carcass. FSIS continues to have an off-line verification inspector to ensure that plant personnel are appropriately handling any defects and to ensure that the overall design and execution of all of the establishments HACCP and process control procedures are meeting the performance standards.
HIMP is being developed through an open public process that allows all interested constituents - including FSIS inspectors and veterinarians, industry, and the general public - the opportunity to participate and provide input through public meetings and other means. FSIS has consulted closely with the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection; the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods; numerous public health, industry, and consumer groups; and FSIS employee and supervisory groups, among others.
HIMP is still in a pilot phase and FSIS continues to evaluate and make improvements to the project. 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. Young chickens are expected to be the first for which this new inspection program is proposed.
FSIS will seek an independent, third party review of the RTI data that was presented at the June 2002 meeting.
This year, USDA will propose regulations in the Federal Register for plants that slaughter young chickens.
It is the intent that proposals for young turkeys and hogs will follow. The proposal for young chickens will include the following improvements:
- Mandating formalized training for plant personnel that participate in HIMP.
- Increasing participation in the HIMP program by allowing plants to volunteer for the project. Participants would be required to adhere to specific criteria set by FSIS.
FSIS employees have provided valuable comments and suggestions during the course of the pilot program, particularly inspectors working in HIMP plants. In addition, 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.