WASHINGTON – Hog slaughter plants have repeatedly violated the same federal regulations because the Food Safety and Inspection Service's enforcement policies do not deter plants from becoming repeat offenders, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General
Additionally, the OIG report found that the swine Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) pilot program lacked sufficient oversight. The HIMP program began in 1997, and allowed five large plants to have faster line speeds with fewer FSIS line inspectors. But the OIG report stated that three of the 10 plants cited with the most NRs in fiscal years 2008-2001 were HIMP plants.
"In fact, the swine plant with the most NRs during this timeframe was a HIMP plant — with nearly 50 percent more NRs than the plant with the next highest number," OIG reported.
The OIG also found FSIS inspectors did not always check the internal organs of carcasses in compliance with FSIS requirements, and did not take enforcement action against plants that violated food-safety regulations.
The OIG audited the FSIS inspection and enforcement activities at hog slaughter facilities to determine if inspectors complied with food safety and humane handling laws. The OIG reviewed enforcement actions taken against plants during fiscal years 2008-2011; and agents conducted site visits at 30 plants. During the fiscal years examined by OIG, FSIS issued 44,128 noncompliance records (NRs) to 616 plants. But only 28 plants were suspended even though some plants had repeated egregious violations such as fecal matter on clean carcasses, according to the OIG report.
Repeat violations occurred because FSIS did not always take "progressively stronger" action against repeat violators; distinguish between minor infractions and serious violations; and provide sufficient guidance on what actions to take in specific situations. For example:
• A plant in South Carolina that processed 2,700 hogs per day received a total of 801 NRs, of which 547, or 68 percent, were repeat NRs that included 14 NRs for fecal contamination on a hog after the final trim.
• A Nebraska plant that slaughtered about 10,600 swine daily received 607 NRs, of which 214, or 35 percent, were repeat NRs for problems such as carcasses contaminated with "fecal material, which was yellow [and] fibrous" on the carcass and unsanitary conditions such as "yellowish colored residue build up" and "pieces of meat and/or fat particles" inside vats that were used for storing product.
• A plant in Illinois that slaughtered 19,500 hogs pre day received 532 NRs of which 139, or 26 percent, were repeat NRs for violations such as fecal matter and running abscesses on carcasses, exposed product and pests on the kill floor.
"Without more incentive to improve compliance, the 616 plants — which process about 110 million swine per year — run a higher risk of providing pork for human consumption that should not enter the food supply," OIG relayed.
OIG issued 11 recommendations for improvement based on its findings