WASHINGTON – “Setting the record straight on the proposed chicken inspection rule,” was the intent of the US Department of Agriculture’s April 13 press release promoting a blog entry written by Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator, Alfred Almanza.

USDA pointed out that HuffingtonPost.com published Almanza’s entry on April 13. In it, Almanza makes the point that the New Poultry Inspection System, proposed by USDA in January, has prompted the proliferation of misinformation in the media, by people who are not experts on the issues.

“As someone who started as an entry-level FSIS inspector almost 34 years ago, and has been here for the tremendous amount of change in this agency ever since then, I want to provide a "front-row seat" perspective on how FSIS has transformed into an agency that puts public health first and focuses on prevention,” wrote Almanza.

The days of command-and-control, enforcement-based inspections were replaced in 1996, according to Almanza, with the implementation of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system rule. The inspection proposal is the next evolution of a similar, science-based approach to preventing contamination as opposed to regulation enforcement as a means to reducing foodborne illnesses.

“The poultry modernization proposal will help prevent an estimated 5,200 illnesses,” he wrote, by turning the focus of inspectors not on the visual identification of bumps and blemishes on carcasses, but instead on the aspects of “what matters,” which are the threats posed by Salmonella and Campylobacter.

“Today, we inspect poultry much the same way as we have since the Eisenhower administration, evaluating the quality of each carcass and doing industry's quality assurance work for them,” Almanza wrote. Fortunately, science and technology allows processors and inspectors to identify legitimate threats to food safety that were not previously available. “We cannot do the same thing we've been doing since the 1950s.”

Almanza also addressed the issue of line speed: “It is not an honest debate when some people are saying that line speeds are going from 35 birds per minute (bpm) to 175. That is simply not the case. Right now, under our current regulations, line speeds are capped at 140 bpm. Additionally, the 20 broiler plants under a pilot program started in 1999, known as the HACCP Inspection Models Program (HIMP), are allowed to go up to 175 bpm. In other words, we have more than a decade of experience slaughter running at 175 bpm, the proposed maximum line speed in the rule.”

Among those plants in the pilot program, according to Almanza, “the poultry produced has lower rates of Salmonella, a pathogen that sickens more than 1 million people in the U.S. every year. These plants also maintain superior performance on removing the visual and quality defects that don't make people sick. Those are the facts, based on the data.”

He concluded by pointing out that inspection is not being turned over to the processors and that the push for modernizing inspection methods has been a priority for the USDA for many years.

“USDA inspectors will be in every plant, ensuring the safety of these products, and the proportion of them doing critical food safety related tasks will actually increase.

“In the 34 years of my career focused on food safety, I have seen — again and again — the need to modernize to keep up with the latest science and threats. This poultry slaughter modernization proposal is about protecting public health, plain and simple.”