A recent announcement by FSIS that a mandatory Public Health-Based Slaughter Inspection (PHBSI) program will be initiated, following issuance of a new rule in the Spring of 2008, might be received with concern by the US Broiler Industry. The relatively smooth transition to HACCP and improvement in microbiological standards following previous pathogen reduction programs suggests otherwise.

The 1996 “MegaReg” resulted in a decline in Salmonella recovery from 16 percent of carcasses to 10 percent within a year of implementation. By 2002, recovery attained a low value of 7.5 percent for all plants although an increase in total levels of salmonella and the proportion of non-complying plants has been recorded in subsequent annual reports.

In 2002 the HACCP-Inspection Models Program became a reality. This followed a Federal court ruling against the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Union which opposed the innovation, since it represented a further departure from traditional labor intensive organoleptic inspection. The HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) initiative for broilers was implemented in 20 plants operated by 12 integrators. Although there has been no statistically significant decline in salmonella recovery in the plants before and after introduction of HIMP, the program is regarded as a success. The original objective was not to enhance safety but to reduce FSIS involvement in direct inspection. Results from the program justified placing a higher proportion of the responsibility for maintaining acceptable levels of microbial contamination on plant management. Comparisons between HIMP and conventional plants presented recently at an FSIS forum confirmed that as of mid 2007 non-HIMP plants were operating with an average salmonella recovery rate of 8.5 percent compared to 5.4 percent for the plants under the program.

The new PHBSI program will emphasize reducing pathogens of human health significance concentrating on salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli. Concurrently FSIS will observe efficacy of chilling and verification of microbial levels. It is possible that the assurance derived from participation in PHBSI might be leveraged into a product attribute generating a premium from specific markets.

A concurrent initiative by FSIS initially mooted in February 2006 will soon become a reality. Plants which achieve an exceptionally low prevalence of 2 percent salmonella recovery will be eligible for participation. These facilities will receive an extra inspector on each line, increasing processing rate. The “Guinea Pig” plants will also serve as a source of isolates for subsequent characterization required for epidemiological studies on the chain of transmission from plants to consumers. Additional samples over and above the full sets will be obtained according to both predetermined and random patterns.