USDA changing poultry test requirements, inspection options

Published on September 17, 2014
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Poultry companies will need to test for microbial contamination at two points in the production process, starting in early 2015.

The requirements are expected to help control Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination.

The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is implementing the new testing requirements and giving poultry companies an option to change inspection of chicken and turkey carcasses in ways to reduce the number of federal inspectors examining production lines but increase the inspectors’ other duties, such as microbial testing and examining plant sanitation.

FSIS authorities expect that, if companies agree to some optional changes in poultry inspection, thousands fewer people could become ill each year.

The FSIS published July 31 an advance copy of a Federal Register notice that the agency had submitted for publication in the Federal Register. That copy indicates that, at participating poultry plants, company employees would find poultry products with quality defects and remove them from production lines ahead of FSIS inspection. A smaller number of federal inspectors would watch the production lines, and they would see poultry carcasses that were sorted, washed, and trimmed and “thus much more likely to pass inspection.”

FSIS information indicates the optional inspection system is based on a 15-year pilot program that proved it was better than other options at ensuring food safety. It uses fewer inspectors and involves them in more meaningful activities.

In implementing the new microbial testing requirements, the FSIS is rescinding a regulation requiring tests for Escherichia coli on poultry carcasses. The agency concluded that tests for E coli had not met expectations as a process control measurement.

“The new testing requirements will allow establishments to develop sampling plans that are more tailored, thus more effective in monitoring their specific process control than the current generic E. coli criteria,” the notice states.