In an effort to modernize inspection systems through a more science-based approach to food safety, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS), designed to establish a new voluntary inspection system for market hog slaughter establishments.
“We are proposing this as an optional system so plants can elect to stay in tradition section if they want to,” Carmen Rottenberg, FSIS’ acting deputy under secretary for food safety, tells Food Quality & Safety. “Market hogs are uniform, healthy, young, and they can be slaughtered and processed in the new swine inspection system more efficiently and effectively with enhanced process controls, allowing the government to position our resources in areas of the plant that have direct correlation with food safety, while still maintaining 100 percent carcass-by-carcass inspection on the line.”
For any market hog establishments that opt into NSIS, the new rule would increase the number of offline USDA inspection tasks, while continuing 100 percent FSIS carcass-by-carcass inspection. Additionally, the new federal regulations would require further pathogen sampling for all swine slaughter establishments.
The regulations are based on a 16-year pilot that the agency has done with five market hog establishments.
“This allows FSIS to more efficiently utilize their personnel,” Paul Kiecker, FSIS’ acting administrator, says. “In the pilot, we spent 38 percent more time conducting humane-handling activities, and we spent more time verifying sanitary dressing, which is directly related to food safety.”
Not only does it make better use of agency resources, but Rottenberg says it removes the unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation and allows establishments to reconfigure some of their lines.
She added that the proposed requirements would ensure that measures are implemented to control enteric pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, as the swine slaughter houses would be required to implement strong measures to prevent contamination throughout the entire production process in their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans, Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, or other prerequisite programs.
Tamika Sims, director food technology communications for the International Food Information Council & Foundation, notes that while the USDA has already established a stringent set of regulations and rules for animal processing under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act, additional measures to control pathogens that can cause foodborne illness are beneficial for consumers.
“Pig farmers and pork producers put a lot of effort in caring for, raising and processing pigs in ways that support a safe food supply. Pork is among many commodity groups monitored each year by the CDC for links to foodborne illness,” she says. “In 2015, the CDC found that only 6 percent of illnesses are linked to pork consumption. This is less than seeded vegetables, such as cucumbers and tomatoes. However, it is worthy to note that any precaution taken by USDA to lessen this number and to keep consumers even more safe has key positive attributes.”
Barry Carpenter, North American Meat Institute’s president and CEO, says the organization has long supported adopting science-based inspection models that better utilize government resources while maintaining strong food safety standards.
“The proposed New Swine Slaughter Inspection System has been used as a pilot project in five pork plants for 16 years, and it has proven to be a strong inspection model,” he says. “Those five pilot plants have produced millions of pounds of safe pork. We look forward to working with the agency as it develops a final rule that maintains a strong level of food safety in the most efficient manner.”
Still, some are concerned that the proposed processing speed lines, allowing facilities to run more quickly with more automated testing and less human oversight, will be a problem.