WASHINGTON – A proposed rule that establishes a new inspection system for pork processors will soon be open for public comment, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) reported.

The New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) would increase the number of offline inspection tasks of USDA food safety inspectors while continuing 100 percent FSIS inspection of hog carcasses. The rule also would require pork processors to implement HACCP-based inspection measures that prevent contamination throughout the entire production process.

Key elements of the proposed rule include:

  • requiring establishment personnel to sort and remove unfit animals before ante-mortem inspection by FSIS and to trim and identify defects on carcasses and parts before post-mortem inspection by FSIS;
  • requiring establishment personnel to identify unfit animals or carcasses with a unique tag, tattoo, or similar device and immediately denature all major portions of the carcass on-site, and maintain records to document the total number of animals and carcasses sorted and removed per day;
  • requiring establishment personnel to immediately notify FSIS inspectors if they suspect an animal or carcass with a reportable or foreign animal disease (e.g., African swine fever, classical swine fever, or Nipah virus encephalitis) while conducting sorting activities;
  • shifting FSIS resources to conduct more offline inspection activities, which would allow for up to two offline verification inspectors per line per shift and would reduce the number of online inspectors to a maximum of three per line per shift;
  • requiring establishments to maintain records documenting that products resulting from their slaughter operations meet the new proposed definition of Ready-to-cook (RTC) pork product, which would be defined as any slaughtered pork product free from bile, hair, scurf, dirt, hooves, toe nails, claws, bruises, edema, scabs, skin lesions, icterus, foreign material, and odor which is suitable for cooking without need of further processing; and
  • authorizing establishments to determine their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control for preventing fecal contamination and meeting microbial performance measures during slaughter.

FSIS added that the new system likely would result in a lower prevalence of Salmonella on market hog carcasses and thus lead to fewer human foodborne illnesses. “In addition,” FSIS said, “the new system should improve animal welfare and compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) because more FSIS resources will be available to verify humane handling as an offline activity.”

FSIS implemented a similar rule for a new optional inspection system for processors of young chicken and turkey. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) expressed support for science-based inspection models, and said the organization will thoroughly review proposed rule before providing substantive comments to FSIS.

“The proposed New Swine Slaughter Inspection System has been used as a pilot project in five pork plants for 15 years, and it has proven to be a strong inspection model,” NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter said in a statement. “Those five pilot plants have produced millions of pounds of safe pork. We look forward to working with the agency as it develops a final rule that maintains a strong level of food safety in the most efficient manner.”

The National Employment Law Project expressed its opposition to the NSIS, saying the program would “…needlessly jeopardize consumers’ safety and the safety and well-being…” of workers in processing plants.

“The proposal would remove most government food inspectors from swine slaughter facilities and thus allow plants to aggressively increase their already breakneck line speeds to process more hogs per hour,” Debbie Berkowitz, senior fellow for worker safety and health with the NELP, said in a statement. “This rule was proposed despite a recent report by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General that evaluated a similar pilot initiative (known as HIMP) and found that in the 15 years since the program’s inception, the agency did not properly assess whether the new inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each swine HIMP plant.”

Berkowitz added that processing plant workers “…face some of the highest worker injury rates in the nation…” in addition to serious workplace illnesses. “Speeding up the number of hogs processed each hour in a plant will result in an already dangerous industry becoming even more dangerous,” Berkowitz said, “further jeopardizing the safety of all its workers.”

Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety Carmen Rottenberg said in a statement that the proposed rule provides opportunities for processors to innovate and streamline food production, while FSIS maintains food safety.

“There is no single technology or process to address the problem of foodborne illness, but when we focus our inspections on food safety-related tasks, we better protect American families,” Rottenberg said.

There will be a 60-day period for comment once the rule is published in the Federal Register. Comments can be submitted via:

  • the federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov;
  • hand delivered to Patriots Plaza 3, 355 E. Street SW, Room 8-163A, Washington, DC 20250-3700;