Will Changes to Poultry Meat Inspection Improve Global Standards?

ANALYSIS - The question of the efficiency and efficacy of poultry meat inspection has been addressed on both sides of the Atlantic recently.
calendar icon 28 June 2013
clock icon 5 minute read

In Europe, last year, the European Food Safety Authority published an opinion on the existing inspection procedures in poultry slaughterhouses and came to the conclusion that the simple visual inspection was not sufficient in times when concerns over pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter were rising.

The accent it concluded was for a more “whole chain” approach to inspection.

EFSA called for the introduction of a comprehensive food safety assurance system, including clear targets for what should be achieved in poultry carcases and, where appropriate, with respect to a particular hazard for poultry flocks.

The authority also recommended the use of a variety of control options for the main hazards, both on the farm and at the abattoir, in order to meet these targets.

EFSA added that it is also necessary to collect and analyse Food Chain Information at farm and abattoir levels to enable risk categorisation of flocks and classification of abattoirs according to their capacity to reduce carcase contamination.

The food safety authority said that the hazards of Campylobacter, Salmonella, and bacteria carrying extended spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL)/AmpC genes were identified as priority targets in the inspection of poultry meat at abattoirs because of their prevalence and impact on human health.

The authority also said that the controls for the detection of contaminants needed to be tighten up and it called for sampling of poultry carcases to be based on the available Food Chain Information, including results from feed controls. It added that the frequency of sampling for farms should be adjusted accordingly.

EFSA also called for control programmes for residues and contaminants to include new and emerging substances and it said this list should be regularly updated.

The recommendations met with general approval in the poultry and food industry.

The British Food Standards Agency said: “The EFSA opinion has highlighted that traditional poultry meat inspection does not enable the detection of the most important hazards to public health (Campylobacter, Salmonella and ESBL/AmpC gene-carrying bacteria), and recommends improvements to the current system.

“The FSA has argued for some time that the current system of official meat controls does not address the most relevant meat-borne pathogens of today, which are microbiological and cannot be detected by the naked eye.”

And the British Poultry Council’s then Chief Executive, Peter Bradnock, said: “We have long reasoned that the traditional visual inspection procedures enshrined in EU legislation for all species are inappropriate in the modern poultry industry. The approach needs to be modernised into the kind of integrated food safety assurance system focusing on biological risk which is being recommended in this Opinion.”

Just last month, similar sentiments were expressed in the US as the House Appropriations Committee amended and passed the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.

The amendment proposed by Rep. Jack Kingston adds report language on reducing food-borne illness with regard to poultry.

The amendment, which was adopted on voice vote, calls for the science based inspection system to be put in place at once across the US and calls on the USDA to take swift action

The amendment read: “The Committee notes that the current poultry slaughter inspection system has been in place since 1957. On January 27, 2012, USDA proposed a science-based rule that would begin to replace this outdated approach, and replace it with one that is based on pathogen reduction and control. USDA inspectors would monitor establishment process controls in removing diseased birds, ensure compliance with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plans and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, conduct ante mortem inspection, and collect samples for pathogen testing. On-line inspectors will still conduct carcass-by-carcass inspection to ensure that diseased carcasses are condemned by establishment workers according to regulatory requirements. The Committee believes that implementation of this system, that has been tested over ten years, will lead to a reduction of pathogens in poultry and a corresponding reduction in foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. The Committee urges the Department to finalize this rule.”

With more science based and tighter controls in both Europe and the US it is only a matter of time before other countries will also adapt their inspections systems and adopt methods similar to those in the US and EU – not to do so would lead to barriers to trade and could start trade wars.

With two such large trading bodies adopting better inspection methods it should also help to improve food safety in poultry meat around the world.

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