The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced on Friday (20 January) that it was seeking to modernise young chicken and turkey inspection by making the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) available to the poultry industry.
Under the current system, USDA inspectors are responsible for activities unrelated to food safety, such as visual inspection and quality checks. The new proposed system would focus inspectors’ attention on food safety, with quality checks becoming the plant’s responsibility under the surveillance of inspectors.
A federal inspector would continue to be stationed at the end of the production line to verify that carcases met food safety regulations, as required by law, but plant employees would take over the role of inspecting carcases online to ensure they met quality standards.
The USDA estimates that changing to the new system would save taxpayers more than $90m over three years and lower production costs by at least $256.6m per year. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: “The modernisation plan will protect public health, improve the efficiency of poultry inspections in the US, and reduce spending.”
The American Meat Institute (AMI) described the proposal as “a step in the right direction”. AMI executive vice-president James H. Hodges said: “While our knowledge has grown exponentially in the past two decades, there have been no major changes to our federal poultry inspection system during this period. We commend USDA for embracing science and we look forward to working with them as they finalise the rule and implement this new approach.”
In a joint statement, the National Chicken Council (NCC) and National Turkey Federation (NTF) also welcomed the proposal, stating: “The poultry industry has spent millions of dollars and has made tremendous progress on reducing naturally occurring pathogens in raw products… we are confident that modernising the poultry inspection system will enable us to build on our success in providing delicious, safe and wholesome food to our customers.”
A pilot programme testing the HIMP model has been in place in 25 plants in the US since 1998. So far, the data suggests that plants using HIMP have a lower rate of salmonella on fresh poultry products, with the pilot plants consistently reaching the best-performing category in the USDA ranking.
The NCC and NTF said: “The continued outstanding performance of plants participating in the pilot program justifies USDA’s confidence in announcing this proposed rule. We are committed to working with USDA to ensure a science-based food inspection system works in a manner that would vastly improve food safety by using modern methods in the inspection system.”
The USDA proposal has been posted on the FSIS website and will soon be published in the Federal Register. It will then be open to a 90-day comment period.