“Food & Water Watch is pleased that the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service has finally updated the performance standards for salmonella in young chicken and turkey establishments, but there is more the agency should do to strengthen this program. We are also encouraged that FSIS has established a new performance standard for campylobacter in broiler chickens and turkey. Food & Water Watch identified deficiencies in the salmonella testing program in reports we released in 2006 and 2008. We are pleased to see that the agency has acted to correct some of these deficiencies in reporting testing results.
“In 1996, the federal government instituted major changes in the meat inspection system by creating the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. Under HACCP, FSIS inspectors shifted to an auditing role and have less authority to require corrective action when they see a problem. As part of HACCP, the agency launched its salmonella testing program, which it touts as an indicator of the effectiveness of meat companies’ food safety procedures. One of the tenets of the HACCP program was that microbial performance standards would be updated regularly. But the salmonella standard that is updated by today’s announcement has been in use since 1998. We urge the agency to regularly revise the salmonella standard and new campylobacter standard in the future.
“In addition to updating the standards regularly, there is still more the agency should do. We are concerned that the agency’s salmonella “report card” will not be as transparent as the one currently used on the agency’s website. In fact, we urge the agency to post the results from all plants — those that fail to meet performance standards, as well as those that marginally pass and those that exceed the standard. A pass/fail listing is not good enough.
“The agency’s decision not to post the results of campylobacter test results by plant will deprive the public of vital information about companies’ progress in reducing this pathogen. Not releasing the plant specific results will force groups like us to use the Freedom of Information Act to seek these results and share them with the public.
“Even when companies fail to meet these performance standard, FSIS does not have the legal authority to shut down the plants or take other enforcement action. It is past time for the agency to seek legislation to make these microbial performance standards enforceable.”