A vast, positive change in food safety will come in the form of modernized USDA regulations for poultry inspections at processing plants. Federal inspectors will be given new freedom to examine and sample beyond their previous limitation of primarily looking at carcasses going by on the conveyor line.

In the years of refining this new system in selected chicken and turkey processing plants, results have shown it will meet or exceed federal food safety performance standards. Rather than requiring federal inspectors to only look for visible carcass defects, they will now spend more time testing for microbes and patrolling other areas of the operation while the plant employees take the first crack at rejecting visible defects in carcasses before a line inspector conducts the final review.

A Closer Inspection

USDA is not focused exclusively on visual inspections, but also includes other testing and verification activities that are more effective in detecting pathogens that cause food-borne illness. While visual inspection continues an important role, it does not offer the same level of pathogen detection capabilities as other essential elements of the inspection process.  Focusing inspection activities more on pathogen detection is an appropriate step toward modernizing our system and preventing food-borne illness.

The proposed rule would allow plants to select an indicator microorganism or pathogen to test for, based on supportable scientific evidence.  Working with a plant to develop testing programs and identifying control points would allow an inspector to hold a particular plant accountable to their vulnerabilities.  It also would allow the inspector the flexibility to identify additional points of concern in the process as they emerge.

Poultry plant employees will initially sort the carcass for appearance, enabling USDA inspectors to devote more time to those activities that ensure the industry is meeting the required food safety performance standards. However, federal inspectors will still conduct final inspection on every turkey that enters the food supply.