USDA finalizes poultry inspection rule

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – The Final Poultry Inspection Modernization Rule is on its way to the Federal Register. The US Department of Agriculture received the final rule from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In 1999, USDA implemented a pilot program called HACCP-based Inspection Models Program (HIMP) at 25 poultry plants. The final rule will allow more poultry plants to implement the new inspection system.

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"I applaud Secretary Vilsack and the food safety professionals at the Food Safety and Inspection Service for moving forward with this rule to modernize our poultry inspection system in order to improve food safety — the top priority for our industry," said Mike Brown, National Chicken Council (NCC) president.

The Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection rule would allow company employees in most poultry slaughter plants to check eviscerated carcasses for visual defects such as bruising and sorting out those that are unlikely to pass federal inspection. A single federal inspector would be stationed at the end of the line, just before the chill tank, to conduct a final visual inspection. Additionally, plants would be permitted to run their evisceration lines at higher speeds than allowed by the existing inspection systems.

Additionally, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is also implementing new pathogen control and testing requirements on all poultry facilities, regardless of which system they operate under.

“USDA is to be commended for standing up for food safety in the face of significant pressure,” said Joel Brandenberger, National Turkey Federation president. “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection provides additional tools to plants and federal inspectors to verify that plant food-safety programs are protecting against foodborne illness. By allowing plant employees to conduct some preliminary sorting duties, federal inspectors will be freed to further verify testing on the spot, examine sanitation standards and enforcing safeguards throughout a processing plant.”

Opponents of the new rule have argued that USDA hasn't given enough consideration to the rule's potential impact on food safety, worker safety and animal welfare, among other issues.

But USDA is moving forward with the new inspection system. In an advance copy of the rule, USDA outlined plans to implement the new system. The agency said poultry facilities will be transitioned to the new system in waves to be determined by scores, computer algorithms and operational considerations.

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