The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a "test and hold" rule that would prevent packers from shipping out poultry, pork and beef to grocery stores before USDA inspections are completed.

According to the USDA, the government organization inspects "billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually," and it believes that "44 of the most serious recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented" if the proposed rule had been in place. "We believe this will result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables," said Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.

Many larger meat packers, including Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., already hold back product during testing, which can take 24 to 48 hours to complete. "While we don't typically favor more government regulation, we believe it makes sense in this case to mandate 'test and hold' for the whole industry," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods.

The American Meat Institute has also said it supports the proposed rule. "We are pleased that the USDA has indicated that it will make mandatory our voluntary test and control procedures," said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. "We believe that this policy will prevent needless recalls, further ensure food safety and maintain consumer confidence."