Cargill meat inspection waiver draws attention
The Schuyler, Nebraska Cargill slaughter plant is implementing a new change to its inspection procedures due to a waiver from the USDA.
An official statement from a FSIS spokesman reads, “The granting of this waiver continues FSIS’ (Food Safety and Inspection Service) science based, data driven approach to food safety. By law, inspection duties can only be carried out by FSIS inspection personnel. The only change associated with this waiver is in how carcasses and parts will be presented for FSIS inspection. With FSIS inspection personnel not being required to perform non-inspection preparatory tasks, they can focus solely on conducting inspections. While the establishment operates under the waiver, FSIS will continue to conduct ante-mortem inspection of each animal intended for slaughter and post-mortem inspection of each carcass and part.”
The Food Safety and Inspection Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, and is the public health regulatory agency responsible for ensuring that United States’ commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.
When the news spread on social media, it was widely understood to mean the plant would be totally self-inspected, “the fox guarding the henhouse,” so to speak.
“It is unfortunate that stakeholders misunderstand the inspection system and the laws governing FSIS,” said Mindy Brashears, associate vice president of research at Texas Tech University and a professor of food safety and public health, and former under secretary of agriculture in food safety in the Trump administration. “As an educator, I encourage them to seek out the many webinars, courses and publicly available documents so they can have a better understanding of the law and the definition of inspection. No one wants to misrepresent food safety information to the consumer, and knowing the facts benefits everyone.”
Brashears said there is no reason to question the safety or level of accountability at the plant, given this change.
“First of all, it is important to note that modernized inspection systems have a tremendous positive impact on food safety. It is important to state the fact that in a modernized system 100 percent of inspection is done by the FSIS. There is absolutely none done by plant employees. FSIS inspectors will inspect every single live animal and each carcass hanging on the rail (ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection). This is statutory law and does not change at all.”
She explained that the primary change is in allocation of inspection resources. In traditional inspection the inspectors prepare the carcasses and parts for inspection and also conduct the inspection. Preparation includes making cuts and turning the carcasses/parts in a particular direction so the inspector can see them better for full inspection.
“In modernized inspection, the plant employees prepare the carcasses and parts for inspection. In general, the labor resources that were allocated by FSIS for the prep work can now be allocated to food safety activities. The inspectors in modernized plants have more training, education and/or experience. They have been specially trained in microbiology and in food safety programs. They can allocate their time to reviewing records and mitigation strategies in the plant that reduce pathogens to ensure that they are operating properly.”
According to DrBrashears the first food safety laws were implemented over a century ago in 1906 and were based only on visual observations because we did not have the technology or tools to monitor pathogens the way we do today. “While visual observation is still important and still done in modernized systems, supplementing this with more oversight of food safety activities in the plant benefits the consumer by ensuring that the food supply is safe.”
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