THE U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) published its final amended rule Aug. 21 for the "Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection," which establishes a new inspection system for all turkey and young chicken slaughter establishments.
The final rule comes after a two-year review of the more than 250,000 responses the government received during a 120-day comment period in 2012. The rule goes into effect Oct. 20, and companies seeking to operate under the voluntary New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) must notify USDA by Feb. 23, 2015.
NPIS is designed to facilitate pathogen reduction in poultry products by shifting agency resources to allow FSIS inspectors to perform more off-line inspection activities that are more effective at ensuring food safety while providing for more efficient and effective carcass-by-carcass on-line inspection.
Some components of the FSIS rule are mandatory for every poultry facility. For example, all poultry facilities will be required to document the actions they will take to control salmonella, campylobacter and other food safety dangers.
The poultry industry is trying to keep an open mind as to whether the food safety improvements touted by USDA can be fully realized.
Line speed remains one of the points of greatest contention for the industry.
The final rule notes that, since 2007, young chicken establishments in the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) pilot program have been authorized to operate at line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute, depending on their ability to demonstrate consistent process control.
USDA said experience from the pilot project shows that HIMP establishments operate with an average line speed of 131 birds per minute, and although they are authorized to do so, most of the young chicken HIMP establishments do not operate line speeds at 175 birds per minute.
Establishments determine line speeds based on their equipment and facilities, bird size, flock conditions and their ability to maintain process control when operating at a given line speed. In addition, line speeds under HIMP depend on the number of employees hired and trained to perform sorting activities.
USDA noted in the final rule that, although the maximum line speed under NPIS is 140 birds per minute, not 175 like under HIMP, "FSIS believes that establishments choosing to operate under the NPIS will determine their line speeds based on the same factors that establishments considered when setting line speeds under HIMP for the past 15 years."
The National Chicken Council (NCC) said it's "disappointing that politics have trumped sound science" after collecting 15 years of food and worker safety data and successful pilot program data at 175 birds per minute.
NCC vice president of science and technology Ashley Peterson was quoted as saying she believes that, in the end, there is very little incentive for processing plants to adopt NPIS, especially because it is voluntary.
Current HIMP plants can continue to operate at 175 birds per minute through a waiver process, but these establishments must comply with all other requirements of NPIS.
USDA said feedback during the comment period suggested that a "one-size-fits-all approach was not feasible, especially for smaller facilities," which is why the agency is giving companies the option to adopt the new NPIS or maintain their current inspection system.