US - New moves by the USDA to change the system of poultry meat inspection will place more inspectors at the sharp end of detecting food safety issues rather than quality issues, writes Chris Harris.
Dr Richard Raymond, the former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety speaking at a seminar on pathogen reduction during the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta said that the new regulations will also help to save money while improving the service.
He said that a modernisation rule on inspection is expected shortly.
Dr Raymond said that, at present, too many inspectors are based on the line looking for blemishes in the poultry meat, broken legs and other quality issues rather than testing for pathogens and other food safety issues.
Typically, he said, four inspectors are on the line looking at quality issues and just one at the end of the line is testing for food safety problems.
He said that the changes could free up 1,500 inspectors looking to pathogens and other similar problems, which employees of the processing companies should be searching for quality defects.
The new proposals, however, had run into opposition from the unions because they could mean a potential loss of 800 positions.
Dr Raymond said that new measures could save the US tax-payer up to $100 million over three years and prevent at least 5,000 foodborne illness cases a year.
He told the seminar that improvements in food safety and hygiene in poultry plants is already improving.
In the second quarter of last year, just 2.6 per cent of the broiler carcasses passing through poultry plants tested positive for Salmonella and in the third quarter, it was 4.5 per cent.
A total of 73.7 per cent of all poultry processing plants are classed as Category 1 or good and only six per cent are Category 3 – bad- where their details are published on the FDA website.
More than 82 per cent of turkey processing plants are classed as Category 1.
Dr Raymond added that contrary to popular opinion, larger plants are more successful in countering Salmonella than smaller plants, with just 0.7 per cent of large plants testing positive for Salmonella. A total of 8.1 per cent of small plants were found to have Salmonella contamination and 22 per cent of very small plants.
However, Dr Raymond warned that among comminuted chicken products, mechanically separated chicken meat was found to be 81.5 per cent positive for Salmonella contamination while ground chicken was 40.3 per cent positive and other comminuted products were 36.5 per cent positive.
“Chicken carcasses are going in the right direction but comminuted chicken parts are going in the wrong direction,” Dr Raymond said.
He said that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) can be expected to produce new standards for comminuted chicken but he warned that he did not believe that mechanically recovered chicken meat should not be sold to be cooked commercially and should not enter the market as a near ready-to-eat product.