Dueling inspection systems produce another round of competing data
For the past quarter-century, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has run two options for inspecting hogs. The HACCP-based Inspection Model Project or HIMP evolved into the New Swine Inspection System or NSIS pilot in 2014. And HIMP, or NSIS, have grown up alongside traditional hog inspection protocols used for decades.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) produced HIMP as a more flexible, more efficient, fully integrated inspection system for meat and poultry.
“The HIMP system, in contrast with the traditional inspection system, focuses more control for food safety and other consumer protection activities on the establishment with agency personnel focusing on carcass and verification system activities,” a USDA history says.
“FSIS expects this system to yield increased food safety and other benefits to consumers and will permit FSIS to deploy its in-plant resources more effectively.”
During 25 years, the HIMP or NSIS pilots and traditional inspection have produced plenty of data with differing analyses.
The rule for the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) was made final in 2014, but the New Swine Inspection Service (NSIS) did not become final until 2019. Various lawsuits were filed against the final swine rule, some focused on the line speed issue, which involves the speed for removing slaughtered animals from the kill room floor.
Three activists groups, the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, and the Humane Farming Associations are plaintiffs in one of those lawsuits. They’ve turned to the historic tactic of using data for both pilot and traditional inspections to argue that pilot plants have a higher rate of contamination when compared to the traditional ones.
But a North American Meat Institute (NAMI) spokesman says the activists are putting a spin on the data that is “fundamentally flawed and shows they do not understand the basic tasks required of FSIS inspectors in both traditional and NSIS facilities”.
Food and Water Watch, for the plaintiffs, conducted an analysis of FS-2 violations for HIMP and traditional establishments.
The consumer advocates conclude there are significantly more regulatory violations for fecal and digestive matter on carcasses for the pilot plants than for the traditional ones.
FSIS claims NSIS improves the effectiveness of hog slaughter with better use of agency resources, allowing processors to reconfigure lines and vary speeds.
The Center for Food Safety found the NSIS plants had nearly double the violations of the traditional plants. The NSIS plants were also twice as likely to be cited for contamination, it said.
Such FS-2 violations are for food safety standards involving fecal matter, digestive or ingesta, and milk, all substances that may contain human pathogens including Salmonella. The FSIS has a zero-tolerance policy for FS-2 violations. No FS-2 violations of carcasses are permitted.
NAMI took exception to an apples and oranges comparison that it claimed is at the heart of the Food and Water Watch analysis. It said NSIS facilities have more inspection tasks than traditional plants and are subject to additional regulations. An inspector in an NSIS plant looks at 24 carcasses versus 12 by the traditional inspector.
“Statistically, if you are performing an offline inspection task for FS-2 violations looking at 24 carcasses, you are likely to find more violations,” NAMI said.
Salmonella contamination in pork is responsible for an estimated 69,000 illnesses annually.
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