IT has been a rough couple of weeks for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's meat inspection regime after two stories questioned the soundness of technological solutions used by food safety inspections and meat graders.
The first story was potentially the more damning of the two, with the New York Times reporting Aug. 18 that the Food Safety & Inspection Service's (FSIS) computer system was offline for two days earlier in August, pushing inspectors back to the old paper-based system.
The implication was that meat left processing facilities without being inspected, but an FSIS spokesperson called that assertion "reckless and inaccurate."
FSIS administrator Alfred Almanza said the computer system was compromised by a Microsoft system update but reiterated that inspection continued throughout the outage. He said the computers are an "after-the-fact" documentation system.
Meanwhile, USDA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reported that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) should re-evaluate its camera grading system, suggesting that grading errors could be costing consumers $375 million per year. The report says USDA should verify the accuracy of its camera grading system, which is estimated to be used to evaluate up to 40% of beef carcasses harvested in the U.S.
"When AMS initially established these classifications, industry objected that the cameras' grading did not conform to what the graders were doing in the plants; ultimately, AMS agreed to lower the grades," the OIG report says. "The new lower grading classifications meant more beef would receive higher grades, which may be correct."
If they are not correct, however, consumers may be overpaying for beef graded via the camera system.