The new poultry inspection rule announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires additional microbiological testing at all poultry processing facilities and introduces a fifth inspection system available for U.S. plants to voluntarily adopt. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the rule a “longstanding effort” to “modernize our system” and said the agency is confident that it will result in safer food. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) already tests for Salmonella and Campylobacter, Vilsack said, but this rule requires plants to do additional testing at least twice per shift. “They will have to pick the pathogen that they believe is a hazard within their establishment, and, being a poultry establishment, it could either be Campylobacter or Salmonella,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. “This is extraordinarily important,” Vilsack said. “We think it will increase the chances of us detecting problems and it places a responsibility and burden on the processing facility to do additional testing.” The New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) is based on the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) and directs poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors. “In this option, we’re moving away from a system that was devised and designed as far back as 1957, where individual inspectors are at the beginning of a line taking a look at issues that really involve quality assurance, not so much food safety,” Vilsack said. “We still have a responsibility to inspect carcasses, and we will continue to have inspectors at the end of the evisceration line doing that important inspection.” The goal is to free up inspectors on each line to be able to ensure that sampling and testing are done properly and sanitation requirements are met, and to verify compliance with food safety rules. “They’re all going to be performing food safety tasks that are more relevant to public health and food safety than sorting duties that they’re relegated to today,” Almanza said. After many public comments expressed concern that the proposed increased line speed of 175 birds per minute would jeopardize worker safety, FSIS responded by maintaining the maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute to match all other existing poultry inspection systems. According to Vilsack, the plants that have been using HIMP on an experimental basis for more than a decade have an average line speed of 131 birds per minute. “We are still looking to improve worker safety,” he said. The rule also requires plants adopting the NPIS system to set up a method of notifying employees about initial indications of injury and encouraging early reporting of injury. In addition, FSIS inspectors will be trained to watch for injuries and report concerns directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). FSIS estimates that the NPIS will prevent nearly 5,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter foodborne illnesses each year. The system is part of the agency’s Salmonella Action Plan, unveiled last December, along with revised pathogen reduction performance standards for all poultry and new standards for poultry parts, which will be announced later this year. Vilsack said that the department does not have an estimate of how many companies will choose to opt in to NPIS. “This is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system for poultry into the 21st century, relying on sampling and testing, understanding the science of pathogens much better than we did in 1957, and, I think, it also reflects a department that took very seriously the comments that were provided over the last several years about this rule,” Vilsack said.