USDA rejects NCC poultry line speed petition

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/Magone
Picture: iStock/Magone

Related tags Salmonella Food safety Foodborne illness Fsis

The USDA-FSIS has denied a petition from the National Chicken Council requesting line speed caps be eliminated for some chicken slaughter plants.

The NCC filed the petition in September on the regulation that prescribes 140 birds per minute (bpm) as the maximum line speed under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).

USDA-FSIS said it received more than 100,000 comments on the petition.

“[Based] on our experience under the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) pilot study, FSIS inspectors are able to conduct an effective online inspection of each carcass at line speeds of up to 175 bpm.

“These establishments had demonstrated that they could maintain process control at the line speeds authorized under HIMP during the years they participated in the pilot.

“The petition did not include data to demonstrate that inspectors can conduct an effective carcass-by-carcass inspection at line speeds faster than those authorized under HIMP.”

Possible future waivers

FSIS allows 20 young chicken establishments granted Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP) waivers to operate under HIMP to continue to run at line speeds of up to 175 bpm.

However, the agency said it did expect to grant a ‘limited number’ of waivers in the future from young chicken establishments to operate at line speeds up to 175 bpm.

“FSIS now has over a year of documented process control history for many young chicken establishments operating under NPIS.

“The criteria will include, among other things, a demonstrated history of process control and establishment configuration and procedures that provide for effective carcass-by-carcass inspection at high line speeds.”

The Safe Food Coalition had asked USDA to deny the petition.

Thomas Gremillion, director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America, said: “Waiving line speed restrictions could easily increase food safety risks, and this proposal lacked any credible safeguards.”

“The data clearly did not support this petition and we are pleased that FSIS has confirmed that,”​ said Patricia Buck of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention.

Food & Water Watch on Salmonella performance standard

Meanwhile, Food and Water Watch has claimed there is a greater tendency for chicken slaughter plants that converted to the NPIS to fail the agency’s Salmonella performance standard.

NPIS turns inspection responsibilities over to company employees.

There is one USDA inspector on the slaughter line who inspects up to three birds per second.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said the inspection system was hyped as an improvement to food safety and ‘certainly isn’t’.

“In fact, it has higher rates of contamination than slaughterhouses with more government oversight. This does not come as a surprise.”

Food & Water Watch filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get names of the plants that have converted to the new system and compared that list with Salmonella verification results from October 9, 2016 - December 30, 2017​.

A category 3 site has exceeded the Salmonella or Campylobacter maximum allowable percent positive during any completed 52-week moving window over the last three months.

Salmonella performance for category 3 is >9.8% for young chicken carcass and >7.1% for young turkey carcass.

The group said 13 of the 43 NPIS plants failed the performance standard. By comparison, only 18 of the 142 non-NPIS plants (13%) failed.

One of the NPIS plants that failed has a line speed waiver so it is able to run its slaughter line up to 175 birds per minute, it added.

Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist at Food & Water Watch, said test results confirm what it suspected when the USDA first proposed the inspection system in 2012.

“We call on the USDA to stop further implementation of NPIS and revoke the line speed waiver for the Norman W. Fries plant that failed the it Salmonella testing.”

The USDA is also planning to extend the inspection model to hog slaughter plants.

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