FSIS, poultry industry face inspection issues

USDA executives discussed the new salmonella and campylobacter performance standards for poultry and other FSIS initiatives at the NTF Leadership Conference.

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Human illness attributed to salmonellosis has increased in spite of progress in reducing the incidence of salmonella on raw poultry carcasses.
Human illness attributed to salmonellosis has increased in spite of progress in reducing the incidence of salmonella on raw poultry carcasses.

More stringent performance standards for salmonella on broiler and turkey carcasses and were announced in May by the USDA. At the same time, the first campylobacter performance standards were announced for broilers and turkeys.

Dr. Dan Engeljohn, from the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s policy office, presented the agency’s case for tightening the salmonella performance standards at the National Turkey Federation (NTF) Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Less-than-daily sanitation, ‘for cause’ food safety audits and donning and doffing compensation are other issues addressed at the meeting.

Performance standards for salmonella and campylobacter   

The number of cases of foodborne illness per 100,000 people attributed to campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7 and L. monocytogenes has declined since the implementation of HACCP in 1996 (Table 1). Unfortunately, the human illness rate attributed to salmonellosis has increased, in spite of progress made by the poultry industry in reducing the incidence of salmonella on raw carcasses.

With the new performance standards, FSIS is asking the poultry industry for more reductions in the number of carcasses that are positive for salmonella coming out of the chiller and is continuing to expect this to lead to a reduction in the human salmonellosis illness rate. The data from the past 13 years might suggest that there has not been a correlation between reductions in the incidence rate of salmonella carcasses coming out of the chiller and the human illness rate for salmonellosis.
Engeljohn said that USDA’s goal for 2011 is to reduce the illness rate for human salmonellosis from 15.4 per 100,000 of population to 14.8, which the agency says will reduce the annual number of illnesses by 50,000 and save $900 million.

Less-than-daily sanitation  

Less-than-daily (LTD) sanitation has spread throughout the meat and poultry industries and is common in cooking and further processing plants. Plants have been using microbiological test results to justify the move away from the stop and clean once every 24 hours schedule. FSIS has announced that establishments can continue using LTD sanitation but that FSIS inspectors will apply traditional organoleptic work methodology (visual, smell, feel) as the standard to be met.

Engeljohn said that, “It is insufficient to focus solely on microbiological control; measures to control chemical and physical food safety hazards and filth also must be addressed.”

This topic brought several questions from the audience and concerns were raised regarding how this would be implemented and how it would impact plants that currently operate three production shifts per day.

‘For cause’ FSAs   

Dr. William James, USDA FSIS office of field operations, explained how a plant’s non-compliance record (NR) rate can trigger a “for cause” food safety assessment (FSA).

“When an establishment’s public health NR rate is greater than two standard deviations from the mean NR rate of all establishments across the nation, the establishment receives a for cause FSA,” he said.

The use of NR rates in scheduling for cause FSAs began in January 2010, and James said that the national average food safety NR rate has stayed around 0.10 this year. Audience discussion centered on how a plant would calculate its public health NR rate and how it would know what rate is two standard deviations from the national mean.

James said that other ‘for cause’ FSA triggers are an FSIS finding of L. monocytogenes or salmonella in RTE products, a Class 1 recall, a food safety related notice of intended enforcement (NOIE) not from an FSA, or the establishment moving into Category 3 for salmonella.

Inspectors donning and doffing   

In 2010, FSIS and the inspectors union entered into a settlement agreement and formed a taskforce to determine appropriate donning and doffing activities for inspection personnel. The taskforce is developing a methodology for measuring and normalizing time required to perform donning/doffing activities and travel to and from the inspection area.

James said that the agency is developing a rule communicating how required donning and doffing will be integrated in inspection activities and possible effect on inspection service for the industry.

He would not comment on the impact of the new donning/doffing rules might have on the industry. It appears that the industry could lose line time in evisceration, since downtime for within shift breaks would have to include time for the break and time for donning/doffing. No line time need be lost at the start or end of a shift, but maintaining the same actual hanging time as at the present would likely involve overtime for inspectors for the donning/doffing time at the beginning and end of shifts. 

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