Proposed rule will modernize swine inspection - USDA

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/songqiuju
Picture: iStock/songqiuju
The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) is proposing to change swine inspection regulations.

The New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) will create a voluntary inspection system for market hog slaughter establishments.

USDA-FSIS said the proposed rule modernizes inspection as it will revoke maximum line speeds and allow sites to reconfigure evisceration lines.

The maximum line speed under existing regulations for market hogs is 1,106 head per hour (hph) with seven online inspectors.

Proposed rule plans

For establishments that opt in, the rule would increase the number of offline USDA inspection tasks, while continuing 100% FSIS carcass-by-carcass inspection.

FSIS said the new system may result in a lower prevalence of Salmonella on market hog carcasses.

“Under the proposed rule, establishments, except for very small and very low volume establishments, would be required to collect pre-evisceration and post chill samples at a frequency of once per 1,000 carcasses.

“FSIS is proposing to remove the current requirement that swine establishments test carcasses for generic E. coli to monitor process control and to remove the codified Salmonella pathogen reduction performance standards for swine…”

There will be a 60-day period for comment once the rule​ is published in the Federal Register.

HACCP and SOPs

All sites would be required to implement measures to prevent contamination throughout the production process in their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (Sanitation SOPs) or other prerequisite programs.

FSIS is proposing plants have written procedures in their HACCP plans to prevent contamination of the pre-operational environment (food contact surfaces, equipment) by pathogens.

“FSIS is proposing this requirement as a direct result of a recent outbreak of foodborne illness associated with a hog slaughter establishment where food contact surfaces were found to be contaminated with the outbreak strain.”

Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy under-secretary for food safety, said: “There is no single technology or process to address the problem of foodborne illness, but when we focus our inspections on food safety-related tasks, we better protect American families.”

“The proposed NSIS has been used as a pilot project in five pork plants for 15 years, and it has proven to be a strong inspection model. Those five pilot plants have produced millions of pounds of safe pork,”​ said Barry Carpenter, North American Meat Institute (NAMI) president and CEO.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) said the rule would ‘severely deregulate’ the pork industry’s inspection system.

“This would have harrowing consequences not only for the wellbeing of plant workers – who will be required to handle even faster line speeds – but for consumers generally, who will have to suffer the food safety consequences of feces, toenails, hair, and other undesirable elements missed due to industry’s demand for faster production.”

Food & Water Watch said the plan would put worker safety, humane slaughter compliance and food safety performance at risk.

“It is irresponsible for the USDA to expand a radical change to food safety responsibility in the pork industry based on a pilot program that clearly failed to show that allowing companies to inspect themselves can produce safe food​,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the group.

Follow on from HIMP

The move follows on from the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in chicken plants.

Plants were permitted to operate evisceration line speeds at 175 birds per minute versus 140 in traditional inspection systems.

However, the final rule under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) limited line speed to 140 birds per minute.

A National Chicken Council (NCC) petition in September last year​ said this may have deterred many establishments from opting into the system.

“The 140 bpm line speed limitation is unnecessary because there is no food safety risk associated with operating at higher line speeds.

“Eliminating the arbitrary line speed limits for plants participating in the waiver program also would eliminate an inconsistency created by the disparate treatment of the former HIMP plants compared to all other plants.”

However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged USDA to reject the petition saying a federal inspector could be asked to observe more than 200 chicken carcasses per minute - or three per second.

“We question whether a third of a second is adequate time for an inspector to see much of anything, let alone evidence of fecal contamination on a chicken carcass,”​ said Sarah Sorscher, CSPI deputy director of regulatory affairs. 

Other groups opposed the petition as part of the Safe Food Coalition: Center for Food Safety, Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, GAP, National Consumers League and STOP Foodborne Illness.

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