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Full Disclosure: Changes to Poultry Inspections Needed to Protect Public Health

Cross posted from Food Safety News:

For the past 15 years, USDA conducted a pilot project to inform how we modernize our inspection process – all to ensure that meat and poultry is safe to eat. Today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), released a report on the project, known as the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), and how FSIS has relied on it to propose a modernized approach to inspecting poultry.

While an initial scan of the press coverage may lead you to believe that GAO discredits this proposal, that is not the case. GAO gave HIMP a thorough review and made just two recommendations, both of which FSIS is already working to fulfill.

GAO chose not to include some facts that also deserve public disclosure. FSIS put forward this proposal because data shows that a system like HIMP will prevent at least 5,000 more foodborne illnesses annually. The study that FSIS has conducted of HIMP provides an appropriate basis on which to judge the merits of this system. Approximately 10 years ago, FSIS asked an independent group of experts in poultry microbiology, statistical evaluation, poultry food safety and public health to evaluate our study.

These experts supported FSIS’ study design and found that that our approach was valid. But GAO’s report does not mention this food safety conclusion.

GAO’s report also assumes that the basis for moving forward with this proposal is to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars. Although it does accomplish both of those things, as FSIS made clear to GAO, this proposal is first and foremost about making food safer. As an agency responsible above all for protecting consumers from foodborne illness, we are obligated to ensure a more modern and better system at hand. In other words GAO did not evaluate this from a public health angle – Rates of illness caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter have been stagnant, even showing occasional rises, in recent years. We must reverse this trend, and if we are to do so, one thing is clear: we cannot continue inspecting poultry the way we have been for over 50 years.

Here is what the data tells us:

  • Under the HIMP, FSIS inspectors complete more inspection tasks “off the line” that verify that the plants they work in continuously satisfy food safety performance standards.
  • Fecal material, the primary avenue for pathogen contamination, appears about half as often in HIMP establishments as it does in non-HIMP establishments. HIMP establishments are also checked four times more often for fecal material by FSIS inspectors as are non HIMP establishments.
  • The average positive rate for Salmonella in HIMP establishments is 20% lower than the average positive rate in non-pilot establishments.

If finalized and implemented broadly, this new inspection system would enable FSIS to better fulfill our food safety mission. Nothing in the GAO’s report contradicts this basic fact.

18 Responses to “Full Disclosure: Changes to Poultry Inspections Needed to Protect Public Health”

  1. Doug Dawson says:

    I can not believe that you would approve a country like China that has been notorious for putting fake and dangerous ingredients into food for years. They are responsible for killing numerous humans and pets through their food supplies. It was milk not long ago and before that dog and cat food and before that….. My family of 6 eat a lot of chicken and now we are going to change our diet based off of this and limit the chicken that we eat to just locally grown and killed poultry. We will no longer allow our children to eat any chicken products at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. We feel that you are no longer looking out for the best interest of US citizens. Thanks for nothing USDA.

  2. Freddie Kimball says:

    This is a sad joke on food safety. The words in quotes are from a news article, “U.S. Department of Agriculture waited until Friday — the day before a long holiday weekend — to announce that it had ended a ban on Chinese chicken imports by approving four Chinese poultry processors to ship processed (“heat-treated/cooked”) chicken to the U.S.”
    How can you be touting a program on poultry food safety and then sneakily approve importing UNSUPERVISED cooked chicken from China? I hope this bites you in the political and budget butt.

  3. David Gallagher says:

    Do not privatize poultry or any other inspection process. The USDA should be ashamed of themselves, especially for releasing this news in front of a three day weekend. A full review of all USDA operations from the top down should occur now.

  4. Jack Sheppard says:

    Agree with Doug and Freddie, what in the world is the USDA thinking. I would bet as usual in Washington these days money is flowing from China to someone’s pockets. I read packaging and never buy any food products from China. No more Chicken parts for this family, will need to pay more for local sources. Not that our cow and pig is much safer these days, been hearing about a lot of sick cattle from growth hormones and other chemically induced weight gain hitting the processing plants.

  5. Rick dewitt says:

    Right on mr kimball and Dawson for your posts above…
    This move by the USDA… Tom vilsack.. Is outrageous… You’ve got to be joking me… What a complete FUBAR… You and Obama should be ashamed of your selves… And all fired and be forced to eat Chinese processed chicken for the rest of your lives… I can only imagine the politics and greed behind this… Your actually allowing china to wipe us off the map not through aggression but through proisioning us and our children through their complete and unregulated food processing procedures… Not to mention the insanity behind the carbon foot print that it will take to actually put this nightmare into play… WAKE UP TOM… USDA… THE US GOVERNMENT… if you’re really going to bring this down on the American people then… I hope you are all ready to see things get really ugly…
    I wonder if you will be feeding your children Chinese chicken mcnuggets any time soon…
    Please let us know…
    Thanks for NOT doing your job and taking the health and well being of the American people to heart.

  6. Jaguar says:

    HIMP is a bad joke! Replacing gov’t inspectors with meat-company employees? So the companies can speed up the processing? Disgusting. I’m only eating meat from small producers, local when possible. It costs more but it’s worth it. Absolutely disgusting.

  7. ANdi Hall says:

    One of the easiest ways to incapacitate a country is to poison it’s food or water sources. If anyone in the USDA ever bothered to look, China has a terrible reputation when it comes to cleanliness in regards to food processing. We are not exactly what one would call best buds with this country, and we are already sending way too many things over to China for me to feel comfortable. Do we really need to send them any more of our business, is this all tied to the fact that they are holding so much of our debt, and these sorts of transactions are to make sure they do not call in their markers any time soon, so we as a country can stay afloat?
    Transparency in our government is so far out of site as to be all but gone. When, and how are we going to stop our elected officials from sending our food, and medical supplies,production, and the jobs they create overseas?
    We eat it, it should be from our country, and the drugs we take should be manufactured in our country.
    Proud to be an AMERICAN but tired of being exposed to another nations trash…….

  8. Susan Kopicki says:

    It appears that industry profits have become the main mission of the USDA, relegating consumer safety to minor importance. Not to mention worker safety, which I know is not on your list of objectives because it’s apparently not on anyone’s list! Your decisions benefit big ag at the expense of consumers and workers, and that’s a shame.

  9. Mckelly says:

    As a retired USDA Inspector with many years of service, I could go into great detail about the information on this site but I won’t. I will say that the older HIMP plants are totally rediculous as there is 1 inspector at the end of each line and 1 inspector on the floor running tests while plant people now inspect the product. The only basic difference between the old HIMP and the new, which will start in ALL plants either the end of this year or the first of next year, is, besides the 1 on the floor running tests, there will now be 2 inspectors on the floor. This article stated “there were 5,000 less foodborne illnesses” this I don’t know, but I do know that positive sample results for eColi and salmonella bacteria are higher in the HIMP plants than traditional plants.
    One last thing, I can’t tell anyone what to do, but for me and my family, we are not going to eat any raw product from China. On the package or box, there is a required Inspection Legend that gives 7 items such as plant name and number, date/julian date, ingrediants etc., and if I see a Foreign name anywhere on the package or in the Legend, I will have something else in my cart for supper.

  10. Teresa Waxer says:

    I object strongly to China being allowed to make/process/grow any food sold in America – their own babies die from their own baby formula. All chicken must say where they came from and where they were processed – warnings in red should be put in Chinese food as they have a terrible track record — THEY KILL THEIR OWN!!! You are not protecting the American consumer.

  11. Nancy Flynn says:

    Quote from Buffalo, NY newspaper 9/16/13: “USDA approved the sale of chickens raised in the US but processed in China to be sold back in the United States.” Senator Charles Schumer said he will send a letter to USDA to enact more rules for safer processing. Senator Schumer should be spending his time stopping this unacceptable practice for the health and safety of American consumers.
    I am sickened that our government would put us as risk
    all for the almighty dollar and provide CHINA with jobs
    rather that it’s own people.

  12. Autumn Vogel says:

    I am absolutely against the privatization of the meat inspection process. What in the world can the USDA be thinking? Oh yeah – IT’S CHEAPER! Replace government inspectors with plant employees – who are beholden to the plant management and owners? What in the world could go wrong! Obviously, if they give a bad report on their employer, their jobs are at stake. This is a conflict of interest that puts the American citizens in danger of illness and even death! And shipping chickens raised here to China to process then back here for us to eat? China – where they had melamine in baby formula for Chinese babies! How much less will they care about people on the other side of the globe? This is an outrage and you can bet that I, as a political activist, voter registrar, and voter will be telling the whole world about all this AND informing my representatives that this is unacceptable and that I will be watching how they vote. Do not privatize the safety and security of our food supply.

  13. Marvin Lewis says:

    This is worse than a poor joke. Workers are pt upon to go faster, but are not informed that more chemicals are needed to get the lower fecal matter result. LIVE BIRDS ,BOILED ALIVE, and unfit for human consumption will result. More sick workers due to increased chemical use to avoid fecal material.
    Usual government crap.

  14. Lin says:

    Unbelievable! They poison pet food and now some shadow food company has a hold on the usda to allow the inhuman treatment of animals , sick animals to be killed and shipped to us without inspection or labeling? I feel betrayedl

  15. Jim McKinley D.V.M. says:

    I have worked as a supervisory veterinary medical officer with FSIS in many poultry plants in Arkansas and Oklahoma under both the “old” inspection rules and regulations and the HIMP system. In my opinion the HIMP system is much better designed to meet the needs to better control carcass contamination from feces; which can lead to people becoming ill from Salmonella sp. and other intestinal bacteria on poultry products.
    The science behind the HIMP system takes us toward a science-based system that will evolve into a progressively safer system for consumers’ needs.
    The “job needs” of FSIS employees under the present system have little to do with the real issue: food safety! In my experience the union employees are well cared for by FSIS. They would not suffer more from this system. The old system leads to statistically more carpel tunnel problems due to more employees performing repetitious movements on-line for many hours in one’s life as an online inspector. The HIMP system significantly reduces the overall hours required to perform the inspection of the carcasses on-line. Additionally there are opportunities for many more inspectors who will be needed to work in applying the required testing and monitoring of the plants’ HACCP plans. More FSIS employees will be trained in HACCP which will greatly increase the overall science based approach to food safety.
    I believe the future of food safety depends more on applying science based systems; not visual inspection.

    Why is there an increase in Salmonella related illness?
    1)I would like to see studies done to evaluate what influence the conditions in poultry-growing houses and hatcheries may have on the increasing food-born illness problems we are dealing with.
    2)I would like to see more studies of genetic factors in poultry that may increase the incidence of food-born bacteria in young chickens.
    3)…more research on the genetic factors in the pathogens themselves that may lead to the pathogens’ increasing numbers in the intestines of young poultry.
    4)more research on the use of new forms of irradiation (not just alpha, beta, and gamma) of packaged products to eliminate the contamination problems. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation
    references:
    ^ “Food Irradiation Clearances”. Nucleus.iaea.org. Retrieved 2014-03-19.
    7.Jump up ^ Food irradiation, Position of ADA, J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100:246-253. http://www.mindfully.org/Food/Irradiation-Position-ADA.htm retrieved November 15, 2007
    8.^ Jump up to: a b C.M. Deeley, M. Gao, R. Hunter, D.A.E. Ehlermann, The development of food irradiation in the Asia Pacific, the Americas and Europe; tutorial presented to the International Meeting on Radiation Processing, Kuala Lumpur, 2006. http://wayback.archive.org/web/20110726172416/http://www.iiaglobal.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=488&cntnt01detailtemplate=resourceCenter-publication-detail-template&cntnt01returnid=231&hl=en_US last visited February 18, 2010
    9.^ Jump up to: a b Kume, T. et al., Status of food irradiation in the world, Radiat.Phys.Chem. 78(2009), 222-226
    10.Jump up ^ Farkas, J. et al., History and future of food irradiation, Trends Food Sci. Technol. 22 (2011), 121-126

  16. Jim McKinley D.V.M. says:

    I suppose there will be more concern about irradiated food coming from the FSIS employees’ union; however, I believe they have little to be concerned about from a “labor viewpoint”. There will always be a need for inspectors in our food-production-chain…there may be lateral movement of inspectors at some point, but they will not loose their jobs. The benefits of much higher quality foods is the real concern!

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