Federal food inspectors seldom find residue problems in animal products, despite intensive sampling, according to a Department of Agriculture official.
Dr. Kis Robertson Hale is deputy assistant administrator of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Office of Public Health Science, the FSIS' chief public health veterinarian, and a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. In a lecture at AVMA Convention 2019 this August in Washington, D.C., she described the ways people who eat meat or eggs in the U.S. are protected from product contamination from drugs, pesticides, hormones, and pathogens. She said the FSIS has a process to detect hundreds of substances in a single carcass—with muscle, liver, and kidney samples—yet the agency finds contaminants in less than 1% of the commodities tested.
"Overall, violative residues are detected relatively infrequently," she said.
Through the U.S. National Residue Program, FSIS authorities monitor for drugs and other contaminants in meat and egg products. That includes carcasses chosen at random for sampling, scheduled sampling of imports, and carcasses selected for screening because of a higher risk of contamination, such as those with signs of recent medical care or disease.
In fiscal year 2018, which ended September 30, 2018, FDA inspectors found 3.3 residue violations for every 1,000 samples collected, Dr. Robertson Hale said. The pesticide piperonyl butoxide was the most common violative residue in cattle, for example, and the antimicrobial carbadox was the most common in swine.
For drug residues, the FSIS testing regimen has expanded since agency officials added a multiresidue sampling method in 2012. They first used the sampling to detect residues of about 50 drugs in cattle and swine carcasses and have expanded it to detect about 90 drug classes and include poultry, sheep, goats, catfish, and egg products.
"We're constantly updating our methods so that we can broaden our scope of drugs that we look at and also broaden the commodities that are covered within our methods," Dr. Robertson Hale said.