Meat and Poultry: Better USDA Oversight and Enforcement of Safety Rules Needed to Reduce Risk of Foodborne Illnesses

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A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "Every year, some meat and poultry products are contaminated with microbial pathogens--such as Salmonella and E. coli--that cause foodborne illnesses and deaths. To improve the safety of meat and poultry products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) introduced additional regulatory requirements for meat and poultry plants. These requirements are intended to ensure that plants operate food safety systems that are prevention-oriented and science-based. These systems, called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems, were phased in from January 1998 ... continued below

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United States. General Accounting Office. August 30, 2002.

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Description

A letter report issued by the General Accounting Office with an abstract that begins "Every year, some meat and poultry products are contaminated with microbial pathogens--such as Salmonella and E. coli--that cause foodborne illnesses and deaths. To improve the safety of meat and poultry products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) introduced additional regulatory requirements for meat and poultry plants. These requirements are intended to ensure that plants operate food safety systems that are prevention-oriented and science-based. These systems, called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems, were phased in from January 1998 through January 2000 at all meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants. As the foundation of the HACCP system, plants are responsible for developing HACCP plans that, among other things, identify all of the contamination hazards that are reasonably likely to occur in a plant's particular production environment, establish all of the necessary steps to control these hazards, and have valid scientific evidence to support their decisions. GAO found that FSIS is not ensuring that all plants' HACCP plans meet regulatory requirements. As a result, consumers may be unnecessarily exposed to unsafe foods that can cause foodborne illnesses. In particular, FSIS's inspectors have not consistently identified and documented failures of plants' HACCP plans to comply with requirements. In addition, although sound science is the cornerstone of an effective HACCP plan, FSIS does not expect its inspectors to determine whether HACCP plans are based on sound science because inspectors lack the expertise to do so. FSIS is not consistently identifying repetitive violations, according to GAO's review of 1,180 noncompliance records for fiscal year 2001. This has occurred, in part, because FSIS has not established specific, uniform, and clearly defined criteria for its inspectors to use in determining when a violation is repetitive. Furthermore, at the district level, FSIS officials' understanding of the criteria to consider in determining if a violation is repetitive varied. Also, in several instances, inspectors have not fully documented the basis for their decisions about repetitive violations on noncompliance records. FSIS is not ensuring that plants take prompt and effective action to return to compliance after a HACCP violation has been identified. The longer that FSIS allows plants to remain out of compliance with regulatory requirements, the greater the risk that unsafe food will be produced and marketed."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • August 30, 2002

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  • June 11, 2014, 5:03 a.m.

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United States. General Accounting Office. Meat and Poultry: Better USDA Oversight and Enforcement of Safety Rules Needed to Reduce Risk of Foodborne Illnesses, report, August 30, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc294435/: accessed October 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.