Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service announced that the agency will be expanding a controversial inspection program that will allow all poultry slaughter plants to participate on a voluntary basis.
There has been no thorough independent review of the project since 2001 when the Government Accounting Office reviewed it and raised serious concerns about the data presented by the service to justify the program, the federation said in a statement.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) recently asked the GAO to conduct a review of the program so that the public could be provided with an evaluation of it before expansion was considered. The service’s announcement pre-empts any independent review, the federation said.
The service’s testing data on Salmonella in the plants taking part in the pilot project show that while some plants exceed the standard, others don’t.
Even more troubling is service’s recent admission that plants may temporarily change their food safety processes during the service’s verification sampling, the federation said. In a notice to inspectors, the service said that plants may be increasing chlorine levels in poultry chillers to levels not supported under the plant’s inspection plan prior to or during service’s sampling for Salmonella and then returning to normal chlorine levels after service’s sampling is completed.
Such adjustments could lead to different levels of contamination and different sampling results than those in the plant’s day-to-day operation, according to the federation.
The service has no data on plant performance in reducing Campylobacter because the agency has never tested for Campylobacter, the federation said. Last year, the agency proposed new standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter and testing under the new standards has just begun.
Consumers have no assurance that plants using the program’s model can meet the new standards, the federation said. It’s also unclear whether plants that can’t meet the new standards will be allowed to continue operating under program.
Program participation gives plants advantages such as increased line speeds, the federation said. Plants that can’t meet the new standards for reducing pathogens shouldn’t be permitted to continue those advantages, according to the federation.