Food Safety:

Risk-Based Inspections and Microbial Monitoring Needed for Meat and Poultry

T-RCED-94-189: Published: Apr 19, 1994. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 1994.

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GAO discussed the effectiveness of the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) meat and poultry inspection system, focusing on: (1) industry efforts to test for microbial contaminants; and (2) FSIS efforts to implement a risk-based, scientific quality control system. GAO noted that: (1) FSIS efforts to implement a scientific, risk-based inspection system are hampered by outdated statutory inspection requirements and labor-intensive inspection procedures; (2) FSIS resources are mainly allocated for manual plant inspections; (3) FSIS does not routinely test for microbial contaminants, require the meat and poultry industry to perform microbial tests, or provide adequate assistance to plants willing to implement testing programs; (4) although a few packing plants have implemented testing systems, FSIS cannot ensure that the tests meet safety standards; (5) the hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) system is considered be the most effective approach for ensuring food safety; (6) although FSIS plans to require that meat and poultry plants develop and implement HACCP systems, it has not determined whether microbial testing will be required or developed implementation guidelines; (7) FSIS cannot ensure that HACCP programs will effectively combat microbial contamination or that effective remedial actions will be taken when problems occur; and (8) FSIS needs to move to a scientific, risk-based inspection system so that it can better target resources, detect contaminants, and protect consumers from food borne illnesses.

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