The release by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service of the long-awaited proposed poultry slaughter inspection rule was extremely gratifying to the National Turkey Federation and its members. The turkey industry has been a strong advocate of a science-based, modern inspection system, and the proposed rule is the next logical step in shifting federal inspectors to prevention-oriented duties, allowing USDA to redeploy its resources in a manner that best protects the public from foodborne diseases.
Building on HACCP process
The proposed rule builds on the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project, where plant personnel have been allowed for several years to conduct some visual inspection and sorting duties. Since USDA began ranking plants by category of Salmonella Performance Standard results in 2008, the plants in the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project program have consistently been in the best-performing category, exceeding the standard by a wide margin. This validates USDA’s confidence that the poultry industry can work successfully with the government to ensure a science-based food inspection system enhances food safety
This proposal is a natural evolution of the HACCP process, where the turkey industry has made tremendous progress in reducing naturally occurring pathogens in raw products. As many in the industry are aware, the 1996 HACCP rule began transforming USDA inspection to a more modern program by requiring meat and poultry plants to conduct a thorough analysis of where the greatest risks to food safety existed and to identify the critical points to control those risks.
Numerous studies have concluded that HACCP programs in poultry processing plants are working and significantly reducing the incidence of pathogens. In fact, USDA measuring of plants’ process control for the prevalence of Salmonella has seen a significant decrease against the baseline set at the outset of the HACCP program. USDA testing found prevalence in turkey plants was down to 3.1 percent during the first six months of 2011 from a baseline prevalence of 19.6 percent.
Critics of the rule will be looking closely at plants operating under the project to ensure there are no public health concerns. Consumer groups and the inspectors unions will strongly oppose the poultry slaughter inspection rule and will try to claim the existing HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project program has food safety flaws. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in late 2011 asked the Government Accountability Office to review the program.
Food safety highest priority for industry
Regardless of the government’s inspection system, the turkey industry always has placed the highest priority on food safety and has numerous best management practices to ensure production of the highest quality, safest product possible. Such practices include Food Safety Best Practices for the Production of Turkeys, Best Management Practices for the Production of Ground Turkey and Chiller Best Management Strategies. As an industry, we will continue to research emerging technologies to reduce naturally occurring pathogens in turkey products.
This commitment to food safety transcends competitive issues. The turkey industry has been committed for more than two decades to ensuring that food safety information is shared among all companies and that food safety never is used as an issue to compete for the consumer.
The National Turkey Federation commends USDA for releasing this proposed rule and looks forward to the opportunity to provide comment. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register January 27, with a 90 day public comment period. The federation will submit comments and work with the industry on implementation.