The shift in strategy means processors with poor food safety standards will face tougher and more frequent inspections. Those that have good records could see the number cut.
In a statement about the recently announced program, the American Meat Institute (AMI) says the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is moving too quickly to implement the system.
The USDA needs to make participation in prototype program voluntary, the AMI said.
A carefully constructed risk-based inspection system has the potential to improve food safety, AMI president Patrick Boyle.
“However, key constituents like inspectors, consumers and industry are unclear about precisely how this program will work and therefore have significant concerns,” he said. “USDA is
forcing 250 plants that produce branded, trusted meat and poultry products into a new and already controversial program with little notice or buy-in. This approach could threaten consumer
confidence in these companies and their products after a decade of dramatic food safety enhancements. “

Previous efforts to pilot test new approaches to meat and poultry inspection have always been done with the voluntary participation of meat and poultry plants, the industry body said.
Boyle urged the USDA to slow the process down, solicit additional input and make participation voluntary.
Boyle said the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef products is down by 80 percent over the last five years. E. coli O157:H7 infections are down sharply, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
He said the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products is down by 70 percent and illnesses caused by Listeria are also down.
Consistent with these results, the number of meat and poultry recalls, and the pounds of product involved in those recalls, are down dramatically, the AMI claimed.
“This rush to launch a potentially worthwhile prototype may become a needless public relations and political distraction,” Boyle said. “We’ve learned from experience what strong
responses meat inspection changes can ignite. This controversy can be avoided by working deliberatively and inclusively.”
The USDA last month announced it would launch a new
risk-based inspection system in April, targeting meat processing plants at 30 locations across the country.
The 30 locations include about 254 meat, poultry and egg processing plants. The number represents about five per cent of the US’ estimated 5,300 processing plants.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to expand the system to another 150 locations by the end of 2007.
The level of inspection at a processing plant will be based on a number of objective factors such as public health related inspection noncompliances and FSIS microbiological testing
results.
The information will be updated each month so that inspection resources can be adjusted as conditions change, Raymond said.

By Ahmed ElAmin

www.meatprocess.com