News

U.S. reforms poultry inspections in effort to boost food safety

U.S. reforms poultry inspections in effort to boost food safety

FOOD SAFETY: The Obama administration is overhauling poultry plant inspections for the first time in more than 50 years, a move it says could result in 5,000 fewer foodborne illnesses each year. The final rules announced Thursday would reduce the number of government poultry inspectors by around a fourth. But those that remain will focus more on food safety than quality, requiring them to pull more birds off the line for closer inspections and encouraging more testing for pathogens. There would also be more inspectors checking the facilities to make sure they are clean. Photo: Associated Press/Rob Carr

By Ros Krasny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Thursday reforms to decades-old processes for inspecting poultry facilities in a bid to cut down on the number of foodborne illnesses, but dropped an industry-backed plan to speed up production.

Under the new rule, poultry producers would be required, among other things, to perform microbiological testing at two points in their production process to prevent salmonella and campylobacter contamination.

The plan is designed to encourage a pro-active prevention approach instead of simply addressing contamination after it occurs. The move could prevent as many as 5,000 foodborne illnesses each year, USDA officials said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the plan “imposes stricter requirements on the poultry industry and places our trained inspectors where they can better ensure food is being processed safely.”

The agriculture department said maximum line speeds for chicken and turkey processing plants operated by companies such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Foster Farms would remain capped at 140 birds per minute “in response to public comment.”

Tom Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said not allowing faster speeds meant “that politics have trumped sound science.”

A successful U.S. pilot program had been conducted with plants operating at 175 birds per minute, and broiler plants in several other countries “operate at line speeds of 200 or more birds per minute,” Brown said.

COMPANY SELF-MONITORING

Under a separate, voluntary system, companies would sort their own birds for quality defects before presenting them to agricultural department personnel.

As companies become more proactive, the number of government inspectors would be cut.

“By allowing plant employees to conduct some preliminary sorting duties, federal inspectors will be freed to further verify testing on the spot, examine sanitation standards and enforcing safeguards throughout a processing plant,” said Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation.

The salmonella bacteria is estimated to cause about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States each year, with about 23,000 hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Campylobacter is the second most reported foodborne illness in the United States.

California’s Foster Farms recently recalled 170 different chicken products linked to an outbreak of salmonella that caused hundreds of illnesses.

Noting that incident, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, said reducing government inspectors was a bad decision. “This is hardly the time to reduce USDA’s oversight of the poultry industry,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal.

The rules will be published in the Federal Register and posted online at www.fsis.usda.gov/poultryinspection.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Diane Craft)

Recent Headlines

in National

Hagel resigns as Defense Secretary

Fresh
hagel

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down.

in Sports, Viral Videos

WATCH: Odell Beckham’s amazing catch

11-overlay3

It could be the greatest catch of his career: Watch Giants' wide receiver Odell Beckham pull in a TD with just one hand.

in Sports

Monday’s Sports Minute

obeckham

Here’s a look at some of the biggest sports stories making headlines today, Monday, Nov. 24. MANNING DIRECTS BRONCOS OVER…

in Sports

Seahawks shut down Cardinals, 49ers stay in contention

seahawks

The defending Super Bowl champions handed the Arizona Cardinals their second loss of the season with a 19-3 win.

in Sports

Romo leads Cowboys to late win over Giants

romo

Tony Romo produced another late scoring drive to lead Dallas to a 31-28 win.