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Poultry Inspection Should Focus on Harmful Bacteria, EFSA Says

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has entered the poultry inspection debate with a new scientific opinion on “the most relevant biological hazards to public health.”

EFSA says Europe’s “current inspection methods do not enable the detection of these hazards….”  The agency pointed to 99,020 Salmonella infections and 212,064 Campylobacter infections in 2010 alone to back up its opinion calling for modernization of poultry inspection by EU countries.

It’s unclear where poultry inspection modernization in the EU will end up looking anything like the streamlined process USDA has proposed for the United States. That plan would allow the $45 billion U.S. poultry industry to run its production lines faster with fewer federal inspectors.

On both sides of the Atlantic, however, poultry inspection is likely to focus more on harmful bacteria and less on picking out feathers and bruises on birds.

USDA’s plan brought out plenty of squawks during a spring comment period, mostly from unions and environmental groups.

EFSA’s new scientific opinion focuses on the foodborne hazards that, due to their prevalence and impact on human health, should be the “priority targets in inspection of poultry meat at the abattoir level.” These include Campylobacter, Salmonella and the gram-carrying bacteria ESBL/AmpC.

Its main recommendations for the EU are:

– Create a comprehensive food safety assurance system, including clear targets for what should be achieved in poultry carcasses and, where appropriate with respect to a particular hazard for poultry flocks.

– Implement a variety of control  options available for main hazards,  at both the farm and abattoir level,  in order to reduce harmful bacterial levels.

– Collect and analyze food chain information at both the farm and abattoir level to allow flocks and abattoirs to be categorized according to their capacity to reduce carcass contamination.

In a statement, EFSA noted that meat inspection is a valuable tool for surveillance and monitoring of specific animal health and welfare conditions.

The EU agency, created in 2002, recommends that if visual post-mortem inspection is removed,  “Other approaches should be applied to compensate for the associated loss of information with regard to animal disease and welfare conditions.”

While stressing threats from pathogens, EFSA did consider a long list of chemical contaminants. “However, EFSA concluded that chemical substances in poultry meat are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health risk for consumers,” the agency reported.  It recommended controls for residues and contaminants along with sampling to carcasses to keep chemicals in check.

EFSA’s opinion on poultry is the latest in a series of scientific recommendations it was asked to make to the European Commission beginning in May 2010. The agency is suppose to provide EU countries with independent scientific advice for risks associated with the food chain.

The most controversial part of the proposed new poultry inspection program in the U.S. is turning over a task top USDA officials consider doing little more than bird “sorting”  to company employees. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety, sees it as “an appropriate transfer of responsibility.”

The new  U.S. system was the subject of a 13-year pilot project in multiple poultry plants.  If implemented nationwide, USDA would save $90 million over three years  by operating with 800 fewer inspectors.

Among foodborne illnesses, incidents of Salmonella have been on the rise in recent years with about 1.2 million cases experienced annually in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

© Food Safety News
  • Janice Malicoat

    If you are truly interested in operating with fewer usda inspectors,then why are you still hiring? I think it’s more of a political move. Hire more employees, increase employment,encourage early buy-outs and retirement, unemployment line is not increased. When it’s all said and done it looks good for the President. And by the way federal food inspector’s job is not looking for bruises, sores and scabs. Maybe you should look into our job requirements.