Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator Al Almanza told the National Turkey Federation Convention, “We need to take steps to have the most modern food safety in the world.”

Speaking to the audience at the National Turkey Federation's annual convention in San Diego, Almanza said that two specific initiatives with promise for modernization of the food safety system for poultry inspection are the proposed new poultry slaughter rule and the Food Safety and Inspection Service's Performance-Based Inspection System. He said, “The Performance-Based Inspection System is one of the best things we have done in the agency in a long, long time.”When fully implemented, the performance-based inspection system will create “a real-time exchange of data,” which will let plants know how they are doing relative to others. He said that as long as industry continues to “gather data and we are able to work together,” food safety will improve.

“The [proposed] poultry slaughter rule is one of the best examples of modernization,” Almanza said.

“Inspection processes have not changed in 50 years.” He couldn’t comment much about the specifics since it is still a proposed rule, but said that the performance of the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project, known as HIMP, plants gives an idea of what can be expected in the future. According to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service data, he said that HIMP plants have Salmonella and Campylobacter incidence rates that are lower than for non-HIMP plants. He stressed that it is a proposed rule still, but then said, “You just look at the overwhelming volume of data, and this tells us it is the right direction to go in. I think it is the right thing to do.”

In the question and answer portion of his address, Almanza was asked about specific inspectors union’s objections to the proposed poultry slaughter rule. He said that the union represents 6,200 employees, and that union representatives have told him that “they aren’t willing to give up a single job.” Almanza reiterated his support for the proposed slaughter rule and said, “Anything we can do to modernize inspection that will help us have safer food and save about $22 million per year is a good thing.”

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Almanza highlighted four goals that USDA has established for the Food Safety and Inspection Service for 2013:

  • Develop new performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter
  • Provide guidance for non-pasteurized eggs, raw chicken parts, ground poultry and comminuted poultry
  • Contribute to the achievement of conceptual agreement with the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control on a method of attributing food borne illness and a numerical attribution estimate
  • Conduct foods safety assessments at 75 percent of the establishments that produce ground or comminuted poultry

Almanza was asked about sequestration and the published reports that would lead to 15 day furloughs for inspectors and the impact this would have on meat and poultry inspection. He said that the furlough would be required by sequestration because salaries make up 90 percent of Food Safety and Inspection Service’s budget.

“We will continue to get guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the White House,” he said.

Almanza also responded to a question about the rationale for including mechanically separated poultry (comminuted turkey and chicken) in the new Salmonella baseline study for ground poultry products. He didn’t specifically address the question but said that he thinks the current allowable tolerance for incidence of Salmonella in ground turkey samples of 49 percent is too high. Almanza said that in the aftermath of the ground turkey recalls of the last few years it is hard to defend a standard of 49 percent, particularly to lawmakers. Having said this, he then said that the agency needs to make sure that the new baseline is set at a level that is fair.