Twenty of 27 administrative actions USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service took against America’s largest meat and poultry plants during the government’s second quarter were for the inhumane treatment of animals during slaughter. U.S. beef industry faces new policies and testing for mad cow diseaseThree of the other administrative actions against the large plants were for violating sanitation performance standards, two were for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) variations, and two were for other reasons. Those other reasons were both for violating control action by repeatedly removing U.S. retained tags. The violators were JBS Swift and Co. in Louisville, KY, and Foster Poultry Farms in Fresno, CA. Information on the large plant administrative violations is contained in Food Safety and Inspection (FSIS) Enforcement Report for the second quarter of the government’s fiscal year, Jan. 1 to March 31. Large plant inhumane handling violations were also prominent in the first quarter report. The uptick in inhumane treatment violations by large plants first turned up in the report for the first quarter when 13 of 18 large plants were written up for the violation. USDA’s inspection service is on the job at about 800 livestock slaughter operations that produce upwards of 150 million head of livestock annually. In addition, there are about  3,000 FSIS-regulated poultry establishments that slaughter about 9 billion birds a year. Beyond those 1,100 slaughter establishments, FSIS also regulated meat and poultry packing and processing at another 5,100 facilities. Inhumane handling led to the Swift Pork Co. in Worthington, MN, being suspended briefly twice and Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. in Logansport, IN, three times. These include both actions that either occurred or were pending during the quarter. The pattern for FSIS regulated small plants stands in contrast with the large plants when it came to second quarter administration actions. The more numerous small plants were cited for inhuman treatment 16 times during the period, just 16.5 percent of the total violations compared to 75 percent for the large plants. FSIS sent Letters of Warning over inhumane treatment to:

  • Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth;
  • Dakota Pack in Estherville, IA;
  • H&B Packing Company in Waco, TX;
  • J.F. O’Neill Packing Co. Inc. in Omaha;
  • JH Routh Packing Co. in Sandusky, OH;
  • West Michigan Beef in Hudsonville, MI.; and
  • Yosemite Meat and Locker Service in Modesto, CA.

Several warning letters also went to companies where suspensions were imposed. During the period, FSIS took 75 administrative actions against small plants for either HACCP or sanitation violations, representing more than 77 percent of the total. Frequently those actions are addressed on the small day when an FSIS inspector brings up the problem with plant management. Meat and poultry producers and processors may operate only when USDA inspectors are available to provide continuous inspection and oversight inside their facilities. During the quarter, FSIS caught three firms operating when USDA inspectors were not present. they were Pedro’s Tamales in Lubbock, TX, ENA Meat Packing Inc. in Patterson, NJ, and the Golden Gate Meat Co. in San Francisco. FSIS’s very small plants (it does not have a medium category) make up its largest group and 106 were subject to administrative actions during the second quarter. FSIS wrote them up for a total of 190 administrative actions. HACCP and sanitation issues accounted for almost 70 percent of the actions, while inhumane treatment during slaughter came in second at 25 percent. Production at U.S. meat and poultry plants was down slightly during the quarter. The number of livestock carcasses inspected by USDA during the period was 36.31 million, down from 38.13 million during the first period. Poultry production came in at 2.237 billion birds, down a tad from 2.246 billion. USDA inspectors condemned 51,504 livestock carcasses, down from 52,080 in the first quarter. However, higher numbers of poultry were condemned in the second quarter — 10.88 million versus 8.94 million in the first quarter. The report did not say if the higher condemnation rate is due to more poultry plants switching over to the new pathogen-based poultry inspection rule. In addition, FSIS’s Office of Investigation, Enforcement, and Audit (OIEA) detained 1.129 million pounds of meat, poultry and eggs during the quarter, up from 590,420 pounds in the previous quarter.

ARS agricultural engineer Yud-Ren Chen is developing a computer-directed scanning system that could help speed inspection of the nearly 8 billion chickens processed annually through federally inspected U.S. plants. Photograph taken by Keith Weller (ARS).
ARS agricultural engineer Yud-Ren Chen is developing a computer-directed scanning system that could help speed inspection of the nearly 8 billion chickens processed annually through federally inspected U.S. plants. Photograph taken by Keith Weller (Photo courtesy of ARS).
The Office of Field Operations (OFO) at FSIS in three actions in the Raleigh district also detained 263,704 pounds of regulated product. There were no OFO detentions made during the first quarter. Five businesses — Fry’s Food in Fountain Hills, AZ; Gold Gate Meat Company in San Francisco; Krasdale Foods in the Bronx, NY; the Market on Broadway in Pittsburgh; and Safeway in Wheat Ridge, CO — were targets of Prohibited Activity Notices by OFO. In addition, OFO issued 295 Notices of Warning during the period, up from 185 during the first quarter. USDA follows a progressive discipline system of regulation, Withdrawal or Denial for Unfitness is among its most severe measures because without USDA inspection, meat and poultry cannot be sold as human food. On March 1, USDA filed to remove inspection service from John H. Lake, owner of Lake’s Farm Raised Catfish Inc. in Dundee, MS, because of his two felony convictions for DUI. Lake subsequently agreed to a USDA order to ensure compliance with FSIS statutory and regulatory requirements by imposing certain ethics and others measures on the company. Eric and Kurt Amstutz, co-owners of Tanks Meat Inc. of South Elmore, OH, also agreed to a USDA order after their convictions for offering for sale meat that was not inspected. They will be subject to the provisions of a standards of conduct policy and program. No new criminal actions were taken during the quarter. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)