Improving Sanitation and Federal Inspection at Slaughter Plants:

How To Get Better Results for the Inspection Dollar

CED-81-118: Published: Jul 30, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the administration of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act by the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) at meat and poultry slaughter plants that do business in interstate commerce. Certain areas were identified in which FSIS could improve inspection activities and plant managers could better carry out their responsibilities to assure that slaughter plant operations are sanitary and that meat and poultry products are wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked.

Those areas needing improvement included: (1) sanitation; (2) pest control; (3) plant water systems; (4) product acceptance testing programs; (5) ante-mortem and post-mortem examinations; and (6) controls over condemned and inedible materials. Unannounced visits were made to 62 randomly selected meat and poultry slaughter plants in six States to evaluate plant and inspection staff compliance with inspection program requirements. Nearly one-fourth of those plants visited were not in compliance with one or more of the six basic inspection program requirements. The high incidence of unacceptable ratings and the large number of deficiencies found at plants not severe enough to warrant unacceptable ratings showed that both plant managers and inspection program staff were not fully meeting their responsibilities. Part of this inadequacy could have been due to a shortage of trained inspectors caused by hiring and budget restrictions. Because of these shortages, certain inspection responsibilities had been neglected, including supervising line inspectors, performing acceptance tests, monitoring plant conditions and operations, and inspecting processing departments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to more effectively monitor inspectors and inspection supervisors as they work to bring slaughter plants into compliance with sanitation requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to instruct plant inspectors on the need to document all deficiencies found during sanitation inspections and emphasize to supervisors that deficiency records need to be kept.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to develop a system of financial disincentives for slaughter plant managers who allow less than sanitary conditions to exist in their plants. This kind of system could include financial penalties, for which legal authority would be required, for poor sanitation or scheduling preoperative inspections late enough so that correcting any problems found would delay slaughter operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to require supervisors, as a one-time effort, to determine compliance with inspection program water system requirements during one of their monthly visits to each slaughter plant and to prepare special reports on their findings and any corrective actions taken.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to issue more detailed guidelines on inspection program requirements for slaughter plant water systems and emphasize to inspectors and supervisors the importance of regularly inspecting these systems. The guidelines should include illustrations and descriptions of deficiencies likely to be encountered.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to require plant managers to obtain inspector approval of water system repairs and changes that could affect FSIS system requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to improve FSIS monitoring of acceptance testing programs to assure that the programs are conducted in the prescribed manner and to assure the programs' integrity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to reevaluate and, where appropriate, strengthen the acceptance criteria to provide consumers with greater protection against receiving meat products contaminated or adulterated by dressing defects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to improve the acceptance testing programs by providing more detailed guidance for selecting random cattle carcass samples when the day's operation is longer or shorter than anticipated and by prescribing security measures to assure that cattle carcasses are not tampered with before the acceptance tests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to consider the findings in this chapter in developing a swine carcass acceptance testing program and in any revision of the cattle and poultry acceptance testing programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  11. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to instruct slaughter plant inspectors and supervisors to give increased attention to assuring that ante-mortem facilities and equipment are properly maintained and that inspectors perform their examinations of edible and inedible products in the prescribed manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  12. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to develop a formal program for reinspecting edible meat byproducts. The program should provide a reliable indicator that the product sampled is representative of the universe sampled and should include specific guidance to inspectors for conducting reinspections and documenting the results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  13. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to emphasize to meat and poultry inspection program supervisors the importance of taking effective actions to bring plants up to acceptable levels of compliance when they are found to be out of compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  14. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to provide meat and poultry inspection program supervisors with improved plant-rating criteria that can be applied uniformly and that specify review findings which require a plant to be rated unacceptable in each rating area and overall.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  15. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to require meat and poultry inspectors and supervisors to enforce more strictly FSIS sanitation requirements at slaughter plants with objectives of improving day-to-day plant sanitation and having plants maintain better sanitation on their own initiative rather than responding to deficiencies pointed out by inspectors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  16. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to require meat and poultry inspection program supervisors to document the results of their required monthly plant reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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