WASHINGTON, D.C. After remaining unchanged for nearly a century, meat inspection standards are finally being upgraded, announced President Bill Clinton.
For 90 years, sight and smell were the only tools used to inspect meat and poultry destined for consumption. Now those antiquated methods will be replaced by the latest scientific tests aimed at reducing bacterial contamination.
The system has four components.
The new inspection system is being phased in this summer with the Salmonella testing program, followed early next year by implementation of the sanitation and E. coli testing requirements.
Larger meat and poultry producers will be the first to implement the HACCP system; 75% of slaughter production will be under HACCP-based process control and subject to Salmonella performance standards within 18 months.
Smaller plants will have 30 months to comply with HACCP, and very small plants with fewer than 10 employees or less than $2.5 million in annual sales will have 42 months to comply.
"We will make the transition to the new system as rapidly as possible," said Michael R. Taylor, acting undersecretary for food safety. "Our implementation schedule takes into account both the public health importance of the new rules and the time it will take to bring about such fundamental changes within our own program and within an enormously complex and diverse industry."
The new rules will apply to more than 6,200 slaughter and processing plants that operate under federal inspection. The same or equivalent requirements will apply to state-inspected meat and poultry plants and to foreign plants that export to the United States.
Up to 4,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year are caused by contaminated meat and poultry, according to USDA. Four bacterial pathogens are responsible for most contamination: Salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes.
"We cannot totally eliminate harmful bacteria," Taylor said. "People will still have to properly handle and cook their fresh meat and poultry. Our new system will substantially reduce harmful contamination and reduce the risk of illness for consumers."
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