The hot topic of the day is the new swine inspection rule. There appears to be a lot of fake news being tossed around, at the very least a lot of information about how this is going to affect industry and how the consumer is being left out.
So, is this good for public health? The answer is a yes! While the inspectors’ union and others say that FSIS is leaving inspection up to the plants, this just simply isn’t true. Several years ago, I participated in several audits that compared the new system to the old.
What triggered the audits was that the inspectors’ union was saying that “junk, garbage, and diseased carcasses” were getting by the plant inspectors and the program needed to be shut down and go back to the “old way.” The audit system we developed and implemented compared the establishment to the national baseline data as well as to itself over time. Those that we audited in the pilot program did much better than those in the old system.
The “old way” has USDA-FSIS inspectors working on a line — for example, three inspectors working the viscera pans. Under the new system, the inspectors working the pans would be the plant’s employees, and the USDA-FSIS inspector monitors them as well as the product. The FSIS inspector is the back stop, or safety net, in case something is missed. Under the old system, there is no safety net at all. Should an inspector get distracted for any reason, there is no one to stop what they missed from getting into the food supply. Under the new system, that simply wouldn’t be the case.
The other key piece of the new system is sampling. Establishments will have to dramatically increase their sampling for Salmonella, the ultimate goal being to drive down the numbers of people getting sick from that pathogen. Please read The State of Food Safety article in the October issue (goes live later this month) of The National Provisioner for more about foodborne outbreak investigations.
The other issue we keep hearing about is worker safety. What hasn’t changed is the legal, moral, and ethical responsibility to do so in a safe way. Employee safety is Job No. 1 across our industry, as none of us can afford to lose an employee because of unsafe work environments.
Additionally, there are concerns that the establishments will need to hire more people, train them to be inspectors, do a lot more sampling, etc. — that this is going to cost industry additional dollars. To make up for the increased costs to establishments, the new system will allow them to run their lines faster.
The main talking points I hit upon when discussing the new swine inspection rule are:
- FSIS inspectors now act as a safety net when there had never been one before
- The focus is on Salmonella for mandatory testing programs
- I don’t know of a single facility wanting to run so fast that they endanger employees
- Most plants can’t get enough qualified employees as it is
- And yes, it saves government dollars by shifting the cost to the establishments