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Extending the Public Comment Period for USDA’s Proposal to Modernize Poultry Slaughter

Today, USDA announced an extension to the public comment period for a proposed rule that would modernize the poultry slaughter inspection system.  This new plan would provide us with the opportunity to protect consumers from unsafe food more effectively.  We recognize that this proposal would represent a significant change from the current system and has sparked a debate on how poultry is inspected.  We also value the different opinions being expressed about the proposal and have extended the public comment period to ensure all sides are presented in this debate.

It may surprise you to learn that the USDA has been inspecting poultry in largely the same way since the 1950’s.  So, while our scientific knowledge of what causes foodborne illness has evolved, our inspection process has not been updated to reflect this new information. Under this modernization proposal, significant public health benefits will be achieved and foodborne illness will be prevented by focusing our inspectors attention on activities that will better ensure the safety of the poultry you and your family enjoy.

One thing we have learned from the last few decades of advances in food safety technology is that the biggest causes of foodborne illness are the things you don’t see like the harmful pathogens Salmonella and Campylobacter.  As part of a continual effort to improve our inspection system, FSIS is proposing to move some inspectors away from quality assurance tasks—namely checking carcasses for bruises and feathers—to focus on food safety tasks, such as ensuring sanitation standards are being met and verifying testing and antimicrobial process controls. This science based approach means our highly-trained inspectors would spend less time looking for obvious physical defects and more time making sure steps poultry processing facilities take to control food safety hazards are working effectively.

The increased emphasis on food safety tasks proposed under the rule is consistent with the agency’s focus on foodborne illness prevention.  Instead of focusing on quality assurance, inspectors will now be able to ensure plants are maintaining sanitary conditions and that food safety hazards are being reduced throughout the entire production process.

Under a pilot program started in 1999, known as the HACCP Inspection Models Program, 20 broiler plants have served as “trial plants” for this new proposal. Test results from the poultry produced in those plants shows lower rates of Salmonella before it goes to the grocery store. The data and test results from this pilot program demonstrate that quality assurance tasks, such as checking for bruises and blemishes, do not provide adequate food safety protections as once was thought over 60 years ago.

Over the years we have seen — again and again — the need to modernize to keep pace with the latest science and threats. This poultry slaughter modernization proposal is about protecting public health, plain and simple, and I encourage stakeholders and the public to read the proposal and then let us know what you think.

For more on USDA’s food safety accomplishments click on our Food Safety Results document.

37 Responses to “Extending the Public Comment Period for USDA’s Proposal to Modernize Poultry Slaughter”

  1. concerned says:

    The plants going to HIMP is a complete joke. This has everything to do with money and kickbacks. The plant will be able to turn the line speed up from 145 to 175 an hour. This will allow the poultry industry to make over 250 million more a year. This will also increase the risk of food safety diseases and do you really want someone from a third world country checking your food. Most of the contaminated birds and disease infested ones will now likely be trimmed and sent into production or just bypassed.

  2. Zion Hilliker says:

    This is disgusting. I am ashamed that the USDA is part of the country I call home. You are spinning this as a modernization but simply you have been bought by the poultry industry. You are allowing sped up production where unskilled laborers can easily contaminate the meat. This is no different than what you allowed the beed industry to do. You are disgusting. You do not have the peoples health in mind you have large corporate slughter houses pocket books in mind.

  3. Kenny Underwood says:

    USDA inspectors do not check for feathers or bruises. These defects were turned over to the plants years ago. On-line inspectors remove diseased birds from the evisceration line. While it may not make consumers sick to eat birds affected with airsacculitis and inflamatory process, it makes me sick to think about biting into a large hunk of IP. I may have to stop eating poultry.

  4. Concerned as well says:

    I can’t believe USDA and the tactics that are used to save money. I would never buy no chicken that is not federally inspected. I can’t believe USDA would think about saving money, more than putting out safe quality chicken for the consumers to eat. This is a disgrace!!!

  5. Garza says:

    Check also those USDA Inspectors that are sleeping on the line. How will an Establishment Inspectors differ from FSIS Inspectors? I should say Establishment Inspectors will be more dedicated in their job than FSIS Inspectors. People that work like a horse who they called minorities are the real hard worker. Observe in real life not just theory.

  6. Charles Mertes says:

    Can you think of a time when deregulation based on industry request left the public better off? Neither can I. This deregulation will not cause a global economic melt-down, just a lot more people with uncontrolled emissions from their GI tract,and unfortunately more deaths for those with weakened immune systems. I call it deregulation because one person looking at 175 (or more) bird per minute can not make ANY regulatory decisions. You claim this is “science based”, but the initial implementation of HIMP in plants was a research triangle hatchet job that was never peer reviewed because it was blatantly biased and would have made them laughing stocks in the scientific community. Stop before you hurt real people.

  7. Charles Mertes says:

    I am curious about the agency claim that bleach is never used in poultry carcass processing. Let’s accept this as a fact (although I highly doubt it). The logical chemical that they might increase would be an organic acid. The organic acids do not kill most pathological organisms, but they do suppress their ability to reproduce or form viable colonies. If the fecal load on the chicken is small, this means a very small amount of the organism enters the gut (after going through the acid rich stomach environment) and there are no untoward effects. If the load is large, a relatively small percentage of the organisms would have to be unaffected to cause serious trouble. We already know they can survive the acid of the stomach. For the small money savings that the firing of 600-800 inspectors would give you, you have enormously increased public risk. The faster line speeds will turn the purgatory of chicken slaughter into something more like a hell for the workers. Does the human cost not factor into USDA decisions?

  8. Gerard Kelly says:

    “checking for bruises and blemishes” that is not what a FSIS inspector does,somebody owes the Poultry Inspectors a large apology.
    Unless that was a joke just like one Inspector watching 140 birds per minute.

  9. HIMP Inspectors says:

    Obviously, many of the people making comments have never worked at a HIMP plant, and do not know much about the HIMP system. There is more food safety inspection procedures performed in a HIMP plant than in a traditional plant. The HIMP inspectors perform eight food safety verification procedures per line per day as opposed to the traditional inspector who performs only two verification procedures per line per day. The pilot is complete and the scientific data proves the HIMP operation is as well if not better than traditional operation.
    Judging by the fewer salmonella failures per set in HIMP than in a traditional plant, I would say there is no question in my mind that the HIMP system is superior to the traditional and outdated system. As an inspector, I have worked both systems, and I can honestly say the HIMP system is a far better system for food safety as well as for the morale of the inspectors. I get tired of traditional inspectors looking down their nose at HIMP inspectors and acting like they are superior to us. The fact is that most of the inspectors that talk negatively about HIMP, these are individuals that have never worked in a HIMP plant. These individuals choose to believe propaganda that is put out by certain groups, without the knowledge and experience of working within the HIMP system.
    As an inspector who has worked in both plants, HIMP and traditional, and speaking solely of my attitude about my job, I prefer working under the HIMP system. I feel that I’m being more productive in eliminating contaminated product from reaching the consumer. This is due to the increased amount of hands on testing. I have more freedom to observe all areas of production not just a single position on the line. And lastly because of this, I physically feel better, my attitude about my job is better, therefore I’m more productive.

  10. CONSUMER INSPECTOR says:

    I’ve worked at a HIMP plant since 2000 and I’d like to make a request to those who are interested in the Modernization Poultry Slaughter Inspection: PLEASE GO UNDERCOVER AND VISIT EACH AND EVERY HIMP PLANT THAT EXIST AND THEN LET THE PUBLIC KNOW IF YOU FEEL SAFE TO COMSUMER POULTRY AND TURKEY. This is the worst thing you could do to a consumer. Shame on you!!!!

  11. What A Joke says:

    How big of you all at the USDA. Why don’t you folks start looking out for the public’s interest instead of big business for once. The USDA is inept and has been bought off by the poultry industry.

  12. christy wilkins says:

    THIS IS TO THE PUBLIC YOUR COMMENTS DO COUNT THE MORE COMMENTS YOU ALL MAKE ABOUT THE NEW INSPECTION SYSTEM THE BETTER THE CHANCES THE NEW SYSTEM WILL NOT GO THREW AND DO NOT LET THE FEDERAL GOVERMENT FULL YOU BECAUSE ALL THEY CARE ABOUT IS MONEY THEY DO NOT HAVE THE AMERICAN PEOLPES HEALTH AT HEART. ONLINE FOOD INSPECTORS ARE VERY IMPORTANT BECAUSE WE ARE TRAINED TO LOOK FOR DIEASES IN CHICKEN AND TURKEY WE DO NOT JUST LOOK FOR SCABS, SORES OR BRUISES LIKE EVERYONE WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE. WE ARE VERY WELL TRAINED INSPECTORS AND WE DO ARE JOBS WELL WE ARE PROTECTING THE PUBLICS HEALTH. If the new food inspection goes threw the plant will be inspecting the carcasses and none of them are trained we direct them because they do not know what to do. AND THERE WILL ONLY BE ONE INSPECTOR INSTEAD OF 3 OR 2 PER LINE AND THAT ONE INSPECTOR WILL NOT BE LOOKING INSIDE THE BIRDS THAT PERSON WILL BE JUST LOOKING AT THE CARCASSES AS THEY GO BY AT LINE SPEEDS OF 175 TO 200 BIRDS A MINUTE THAT IS FAST AND I DO KNOW FOR A FACT THAT THE AMERICAN PUBLIC WILL BE AT RISK BECAUSE THERE IS NO WAY THAT ALL OF THE DIEASED BIRDS WILL NOT GO OUT TO THE SUPERMARKETS WHERE YOU WILL BE BUYING YOUR POULTRY. i ENCOURAGE ALSO THAT THE PUBLIC CONTACTS THERE CONGRESSMAN WE WANT TO KEEP CHICKEN SAFE BECAUSE YOU THE PUBLIC ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO US.

  13. Duane says:

    It is very obvious that those commenting in here have had no hands on experience with a himp plant. I have been in a himp plant for over 11 years, I can assure you that the end product is far cleaner and has far less harmful pathogens than conventional plants.

    I have looked at the eColi and salmonella records for years, and I can tell you that they have been is steady decline every since the new system has been in place.

    Pathogen reduction is the name of the game!

  14. Manny says:

    If they will retain the current line speed and Establishment Inspectors will function like FSIS Inspectors wherein they should look inside the carcass,then I am agreable with this plan.The reason is fecal contamination inside the bird will not be able to detect if Inspectors will sort instead of inspecting.
    Then FSIS Inspectors can be able to tap the back of Establishment Inspectors if they are not doing their job properly or if they are sleeping on the line.

    Septicemia and Cadaver are easily can be seen beacause of their physical appearance but fecal contamination,severe airsac inside good birds which cling to the inside cavity will be hard to detect if Establishment will only sort the bird instead of inspecting.

  15. alraie says:

    This a Great steps forward. Protecting the Public health can not be achieved by Inspectors standing on the line looking at the chicken, but by digging deep, focusing on sanitary conditions of Establishments, and through sampling and testing. Go for it!

  16. Kris Johnston says:

    You are supposed to be on our side – you are funded with OUR tax dollars. Please try to remember who you represent.

  17. Marcella Anderson says:

    I am one who has an immune disorder,
    I do not eat meat,
    And for my carnivore friends and family,
    I pray for more diligence ,
    Logic says, faster is less careful.

  18. james says:

    In every plant I have worked, the inspectors are not looking at feathers and bruises as this article states. Those minor things are the plant’s responsibility. The inspectors are looking for more serious problems such as Fecal Contamination, contamination from feed or foreign objects, grease, gall contamination-which leaves a nasty green on the birds, IP- Inflammitory Process- Inflammation of the skin, Tumors, Air-Sac, septic birds which are condemned and discared, green livers, and many other defects. If all they were looking for were minor blemishes and feathers as this article states, Then HEMP might be OK. But these are all serious conditons that they are looking for. Each bird must be checked inside and outside or these serious conditions will be missed by the HEMP process. Fecal Contamination is a serious problem where all bacteria originates. If inspectors are taken off the line, then each bird will not be inspected and these serious contaminations will be allowed to roll on down the line. Sure they will be washed, but most of this will not just simply wash off. I don’t want to be eating any of that nasty stuff.

  19. Vanessa Scocchera says:

    Quality and health go together in the food industry. The government should oversight both of them to protect consumer. Cutting corners is not a solution. It is scary that the government is able only to oversight the quality so far and not the health of the products. Tax the food industry instead to pay for the government to really keep an eye on what is placed on the market. A lack of oversight will increase the risk of people getting sick and it will cost a lot more to the taxpayer to take care of the sick.

  20. Duane says:

    The new high speed systems that many plants are using are far superior to the old systems. During the eviseration process the visera and carcass are seperated immediately, therefore fecal contamination is minimal. Under the old system, nearly every bird had fecal on it.

    If there were absolutely no inspectors on the line, but elsewhere in the plant, then we would be ahead. Instead we tie up valuable time by having the bulk of the inspectors on the line, where they do little good.

    Pathogen reduction is the name of the game!

  21. Howard says:

    The American Public deserves better than to be sold off to the Poultry Industry. The USDA needs to stop helping industry and help protect the public like they took an oath to do.The USDA is not saving money in the long run. If one person/child gets sick or dies due to harmful bacteria then the cost of reducing line inspector’s is not worth it.

  22. wendy says:

    It seems that every one is missing the point. How many of you would choose to allow your children, loved ones or even yourself to eat a sick animal? I have been inspecting chickens for 20 years and diligently do my job. No one is taking into account that the industry is always complaining that we are condemning too many diseased birds and when they are asked to slow line speed for unfavorable pathogen conditions. It is ever too clear to me that the industry will save every sick bird they process and the public will not know the quality or the lack of, that they are eating. Okay, unseen hazards are critical to our food supply BUT removing independent federal inspectors that sort through and condemn diseased carcasses that may find their way to your own table is not the answer !

  23. Duane says:

    “Fecal Contamination is a serious problem where all bacteria originates. If inspectors are taken off the line, then each bird will not be inspected and these serious contaminations will be allowed to roll on down the line.”

    While it is true that fecal could be a serious problem, it surely is not the case at the plant I work at. I just checked the eColi records last night and the levels are very low, much lower than they were under the conventional inspection system.

    Over 1 billion chickens have been slaughtered here over the past 10 years and we have only had about 6 sep/tox birds.

    In the course of a week we slaughter over 2 million chickens, and have no more than 2 fecals. The percentage is so low that it is almost non-existant.

    Pathogen reduction is working.

  24. Michael Carrick says:

    I have worked in the Pork Industry at a slaughterhouse in the Louisville,KY area for almost 10 years. I worked in a poultry plant for one year. I do not trust the company personnel to properly inspect the meat products and would strongly oppose decreasing the numbwer of USDA line inspectors to add them to further folow-up testing for salmonela etc.

    If there neds to be further testing, then there should be ADDITIONAL inspectors, not less. I wouold seruiously question whtether I will continue to purchase and consume poultry that is inspected under your new plan.

    I fear this will come to the Pork Industry, which would be a mistake. I understand it would also allow line speed increases, with less on line inspection. The line speeds we work under now are so high it is already difficult to ensure quality of the pork products I pack. As line packers we are under pressure from the bosses all the time to “just put it in the box!”

    You seriously need to rethink this proposal and think about adding MORE inspectors. It seems we hear about Salmonela and other food borne threats more and more in the news. I trust and highly value the USDA inspectors who work at our plants and am glad they inspect the meat. As long as they are inspecting the meat we process, I am not concerned about Food Safety and will continue to purchase our products through our employee meat purchase program.

    Please let them do their work and add MORE not less Inspectors. Thank you.

  25. james c says:

    The USDA is not protecting the consumer, the USDA is pushing for more production, more profit for the Ag corporations and the government agency PR team is spinning this poultry inspection as if it is an improved system. Faster does not equal better.

    If Duane (above comment) did check the records of 2 million chickens and found “only 2 fecals” then clearly the inspectors are NOT doing enough… I am certain many hundreds of tainted chickens slip by and end up on American plates.

    The conditions in large industrialized farms are ripe for disease and now the the USDA wants to “streamline” inspections???

    The USDA focuses their energies on the wrong aspects of food production and is clearly biased in favor of industrialized farms. Organic chicken, dairy, pork, and crop farms have much less contamination and yet the USDA pounds down their doors.

    Please revise the proposed McQuicken Inspection plan and protect the consumers not the corporations !!!

  26. J Melton says:

    It would be a dangerous step backwards to privatize poultry slaughter inspections, putting the lives of Americans at risk! Poultry companies have only one thing in mind: their bottom line; they are interested in selling a product to earn profit. They are not interested in public health and safety (as long as they can get away with it).

    Do not allow them to speed up the inspection line, putting us all in danger of contracting a food based illness. I depend on USDA to protect the safety of our food. But the proposed poultry inspection standards are a dangerous step backwards, and should not be adopted.

  27. Mike Smith says:

    How are the USDA inspectors going to remove DOA cadavers (birds that are hung on the line dead and are often putrified and stink) when the birds are whizzing by at 175 birds/min and they arent’ even looking at the viscera or the inside of the bird. DOA cadavers are very hard to detect with just a glance and they’ll be going by so fast the inspectors won’t be able to smell them. They are a serious health risk that occur just about every day in a poultry plant.

  28. Woodrow T. Johnson says:

    This proposal by Secretary Vilsack and FSIS Administrator Albert Almanza is nothing short of giving the Giant Poultry Companies like Tyson’s and the top 10 everything they want. It will increase their profits by millions of dollars at the risk for public health. Albert Almanza has lied about everything concerning this proposal, he states this proposal will ensure better consumer protection by allowing the industry to inspect their product. HIMP plants are currently allowing plant employees to (sort carcasses) that FSIS employees are now inspecting. Remember one thing, the more product that goes out the back door is more profit for the industry, why do you think they are for this proposal. You hear statements from those that are for this proposal saying if it’s cooked properly it’s wholesome. The American public should see first hand what current FSIS employees are inspecting in these poultry plant, and let them decide what type inspection they want, this in not about saving FSIS money, it’s all about saving the Poultry Industry (Money). USDA wants to save money, they should FIRE Vilsack and Almanza along with Hagen and get some management that Really cares about Consumer Health. I don’t know how these Federal employees can live with themselves making the statements they have with this proposal in changing how our current FSIS Inspection is in the poutry slaughter plants.

    Thanks, Woodrow T. Johnson

  29. alan says:

    I have many concerns about this proposal, many which have already been expressed. A couple that I haven’t seen are: how or when would birds sent to salvage be inspected?,I am assuming that this plan would require on line reprocessing- what happens when the system goes down and no birds with fecal or ingesta can enter the final wash? Who would the plant sorters call with a question on deposition- would it be the USDA vet or the plant supervisor? I would like to suggest improvements that could be looked at to improve food safety and processing efficiency. Eliminate line speed checks by FSIS inspectors. A counter, timer, and recorder could do the job. Besides, the plant knows how fast the line can run and would not exceed that speed. Let the plant put someone on the line between the final wash and chiller to give all birds a final check. Have off line inspectors and plant quality control do a larger sample of fecal checks before birds enter chiller. Examining birds on line for 5 minutes would give a bigger sample size (500) than pulling a10 bird sample. Have the plant put a sorter on the rehang table( since we now know that you only have look at the outside of the bird) to pull diseased birds off the line so they don’t take up processing space or risk cross contamination.

  30. TJ says:

    As most have commented, this new plan seems to be more about poultry profits than consumer health. I personally wouldn’t expect any government agency to be concerned with consumer’s health over company profits. While bacteria contamination is a concern, even so called safe birds are toxic to humans due to the manner in which they are raised and food they are fed. To me the obvious solution is take away the profits from this industry. If we buy only organic and/or local chicken we help preserve the family farms and reduce profits of corporate agriculture. Big Ag only makes money when we purchase the crap they produce.

  31. Deborah Weeter says:

    Inspecting food (in this case poultry) is a good thing, just as having a healthy body is a good thing. I believe, however, that food inspection regulations must be devised within a larger context. Whether or not X number of birds are found off-spec given inspection process one or given inspection process two defines the process too narrowly. The inspection process MUST taken into account when deciding upon new processes the health and well-being of the line workers. If industry saves money and government saves money and poultry remains equally “safe” as in the past, BUT line workers pay higher costs in physical harm, mental/emotional harm then then the inspection process changes have failed.

  32. Mr. Tee says:

    I been with the agency inspecting Poultry for over 26 years. I feel like a change is needed and if scientific research shows that the HIMP process is food safer, then we should accept the change. The outdated plants that I worked in needs to be upgraded. The gentleman’s tag that I read earlier that been on both sides of the fence made some very interesting points. I feel degraded sitting on that old fashion line with fecal material and blood smeared all over my apron. The strong smell of chicken fecal matter all in the air. I strongly support the new modern system and hope it prolong my career with that agency.

  33. Jane D. says:

    It seems to me that what the corporation needs to do is hire more people to make sure the facility is clean and that everyone has fresh aprons, and not take anyone away from Quality Assurance. This would provide more jobs to Americans, too.

  34. Mike Hubbard says:

    I do not understand how anyone can feel good about taking inspection off the lines? If this new rule passes, I feel sure that many people will stop buying chicken etc. I feel that much more money will be lost instead of saving! But, jobs will be lost, food safety will be an issue, and all around bad idea to change to this new rule ! It will hurt all around! Wait until one of your family member’s die from the lack of inspection, and then you will see what’s more important. Food safety or the all mighty dollar! This new rule, NOT a good idea!

  35. Jessa L. says:

    This is awful and should not be permitted! There is such a risk for increased animal abuse here…shame, shame USDA!!

  36. G Allen says:

    Is this tha appropriate place to submit public concerns or should they be submitted elsewhere?

  37. sherri P/ says:

    You ARE what you EAT. Your body uses your food to rebuild and repair itself. If the animal has cancer, I don’t want the genetic information from that diseased animal to be used by my body. Please put the consumer first and take what ever steps are necessary to assure we are not eating diseased animals. It is not just about bacterial infection.
    Fewer inspectors / less time to inspect = fewer eyes to catch disease in less time.
    inspectors who work for the plant = people who’s interest is for the company not the populous.

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