Meat Safety:

Inspectors' Ability to Detect Harmful Bacteria Is Limited

T-RCED-94-228: Published: May 24, 1994. Publicly Released: May 24, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS) efforts to improve its meat inspection system, focusing on: (1) changes that have been implemented in the meat inspection system; (2) the effectiveness of system changes; and (3) additional requirements that are needed to provide consumers with a safe meat supply. GAO noted that: (1) FSIS efforts to improve its meat inspection system do not address the system's inherent weaknesses or outdated inspection methods; (2) FSIS efforts include strengthening its oversight and regulatory enforcement, raising consumers' and retail stores' awareness of bacterial contamination of raw meat products, collecting data and conducting research on pathogens, and enforcing vigorous sanitation and slaughter processing regulations; (3) restrictive laws limiting FSIS flexibility to respond to changing risks and FSIS failure to mandate that processing plants and inspectors conduct bacterial testing hamper the current inspection system; and (4) FSIS needs to create a scientific, risk-based meat inspection system to protect the public from foodborne illnesses and target its resources towards higher-risk meat products.

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