A proposal to modernise poultry inspection in the US will focus resources on areas critical to ensuring food safety while reducing the burden on the taxpayer, the US government has announced.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the modernisation proposal, which will affect the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), will save the federal government around $90m over the next three years.
The measures will also lower production costs by $256.6m each year, Vilsack added – although how this would be done was not detailed.
The proposed measures, which are voluntary, will focus on tasks such as verifying that plants are maintaining sanitary conditions and controlling hazards at critical points in the process.
The FSIS believe this additional focus on critical food safety tasks will prevent up to 5,200 foodborne illnesses per year.
Diminish risk, cut expense
“We will modernize the poultry slaughter inspection system while protecting public health, reducing expense for the industry and reducing the expense for the federal government,” Vilsack told the conference.
“Critical inspection activities such as verifying that plants are maintaining sanitary conditions and controlling hazards at critical points in the process that we know can diminish the risk of foodborne illness.”
Quality assurance tasks such as sorting, which involve identifying visual defects such as bruises, will be turned over to the company as such issues have no impact on food safety.
“These outdated requirements will be replaced with more effective testing and process control requirements that we believe better reflect the threats being faced today,” Vilsack added.
The USDA is expecting around two-thirds of poultry establishments to agree to participate in the new approach to inspection.
According to USDA food safety under-secretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagan, the agency expects around 200 of the 300 poultry establishments to agree to the measures.
“There will be plants that may not opt into this new approach inspection, we do anticipate that this will be well received and that we will have about 200 plants that will want to opt in to this new approach,” she said.
Advocate for food safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has called the USDA proposal the first major poultry inspection overhaul in over 50 years.
“USDA should modify its inspection program carefully to ensure that the program reduces the unacceptably high levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken and turkey,” CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobsen said in a statement on the proposal.
“One can’t escape the fact the government is shrinking, and that historic programs like this one need to demonstrate their value.”
“The proof will be in reduced contamination rates, leading to fewer deaths and illnesses,” he said.