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meat inspection

USDA's mark of inspection: So what?

Mark does not mean the food is safe to eat.

Because of a recent column dated Sept. 19 that was submitted by the Food Safety & Inspection System at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to, and posted by, Food Safety News, I expect the true meaning and significance of the Mark of inspection is being discussed at very high levels within the Jamie Whitten building.

So that we are all starting on the same page:

  • The mark on raw beef and pork products states “Insp’d & P’S’D,
  • The mark on processed beef and pork products states “Inspected and Passed”, and
  • The mark on poultry states “Inspected for Wholesomeness,” whatever that means.

So, here’s the catch. In the column submitted to, and published by, Food Safety News, and signed, apparently, by the Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety Dr. Mindy Brashears, she says “The valued USDA mark of inspection is applied by federal inspectors only on meat that is safe to eat.”

Oops, the NGO food safety coalition is going to have a great time tearing that statement apart.

First of all, the mark is not always “applied by federal inspectors,” but instead sometimes by plant owners when the inspector is not around.

Also, many boxes and other containers come with the mark already applied.

Secondly, try explaining how the mark is “only on meat that is safe to eat” to a mother who has lost a child to an E. coli O157:H7 foodborne illness from meat that had the mark on it.

Thirdly, the mark does not mean the product contains no foreign objects or unlabeled additives that could prove fatal if consumed.

“Inspected and Passed” is a lot different from “safe to eat.”

In fact, all the mark means is that the “product was produced in compliance with federal regulations and under federal oversight.”

That is a direct quote from USDA’s website.

To appreciate the ridiculousness of the quote that the mark is only applied to meat and poultry that is safe to eat, one only needs to take a look at a powerpoint slide directed at the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) field force that states “Grinders with prerequisite programs should not rely on the mark of inspection to accept incoming product.”

If grinders should not rely on the mark of inspection, why should Jane Doe and Joe Six Pack?

Those career folks at FSIS like to say the U.S. has the safest food in the world but have no way to back up that statement.

They also like to say the mark means the food is safe to eat.

This is all about patting themselves on the back while not speaking truth.

Unfortunately, they may have tricked Brashears into singing that memo that will bring out the naysayers who like to bash and degrade the efforts by FSIS.

I can just hear them saying that if she thinks the mark is only applied by federal inspectors on food that is safe to eat, then we do not have to believe her on any of her claims that HIMP for pork plants is going to make pork safer to eat, which was the whole purpose of the submitted column.

I am a strong advocate for HIMP, but this column did not advance the cause one iota.

Brashears, be very careful not to drink the Kool Aid with your staffers. They are not always there to make you look good, but to advance their own personal causes and agendas.

You were a teacher; teach them a lesson. Make them retract the column and submit one that is truthful and factual. It will buy you some points with the Safe Food Coalition.

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