Meat and poultry industry adopts new standards
By Lisa A. Karter
Washington, D.C. — Under the latest federal law, large meat and poultry plants began shifting away from federal inspection systems to a new system touted as the most effective way to prevent physical, chemical and microbiological hazards in foods.
In January, meat and poultry plants with 500 or more employees began operating under their own Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans, as specified in the Pathogen Reduction/HACCP Rule as published by the USDA in 1996. By January 2000, all meat and poultry plants will be required to have HACCP plans in place.
Under the former rules and regulations for the meat and poultry industry as administered by the USDA, federally inspected meat and poultry plants had to comply with regulations dating back to 1906 and the 1958 Poultry Products Inspection Act.
Today`s HACCP program is aimed at preventing problems to address today`s most serious safety issue — bacteria. The new regulations also require plants to begin operating under modernized sanitation requirements and test raw meat and poultry for E.coli.
Plants must now be responsible for the safety of their own meat and poultry. The federal inspector will maintain a presence in the plants but instead of looking for problems that had already occurred, the inspector will check records and monitor plant activities.
If plants are not meeting regulatory requirements, the inspector or the USDA may halt production or issue a non-compliance report if the HACCP plan has lesser faults. In addition, under the new regulations, plants will conduct microbiological tests keeping the industry`s goal in mind — reducing bacteria as much as possible. Beef plants will be required to count the presence of bacteria over time on beef carcasses. Plants will have to become familiar with normal bacterial counts at their plants. For example, it their counts jump by 25 percent on a given day, they will be alerted to a problem and take steps to correct it.
In December 1997, HACCP went into full effect for the seafood industry. In December, 1995, defi nitive sea food HACCP regulations were published to give firms the time they needed to fully understand the new rules, evaluate their circumstances and establish HACCP plans. CR