Throughout the twentieth century, the meat and poultry industry has
become one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States. The
U.S. meat and poultry inspection system has augmented industry efforts to create
the safest meat and poultry food supply in the world.
- 1906: Congress
passed the Meat Inspection Act, one of the first federal consumer protection
- 1957: Meat Act was
amended by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The poultry industry came
under federal regulation with the passage of the Poultry Products Inspection Act
established sanitary standards for slaughter and processing establishments and
mandated antemortem inspection of live animals (cattle, hogs, sheep and goats)
and postmortem inspection of every carcass. Many people are surprised to learn
that the law requires the continuous presence of federal inspectors in all
meat-packing establishments. Some large plants may have a dozen inspectors per
shift in their plants.
The meat inspection
program that developed early in the 20th century used organoleptic methods,
based on sight, touch and smell. The goal of the system was to prevent
unwholesome meat from entering the food supply by identifying and removing
diseased animals. Today, approximately 8,500 federal inspectors enforce
inspection laws in some 6,200 federally inspected plants across the United
inspectors check animals before and after slaughter, visually and physically
examining more than 6 billion poultry carcasses and 125 million livestock
carcasses each year. Federal inspectors also monitor products during processing,
handling, and packaging to ensure that they are safe and accurately labeled.
Federal inspectors have the authority to shut plants down for food safety
violations by withholding the federal seal of inspection on
Inspectors also test for the presence of pathogenic microorganisms
and some drug and chemical residues. FSIS operates three field laboratories to
provide analytical support.
The largest threats
to food safety in the meat industry are no longer the animal diseases of the
early twentieth century, but foodborne pathogens - bacteria that can make people
The most effective
way to control microbial problems is through prevention.
Industry had been
using a system called HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points,
since the early 1990s to prevent problems. Pillsbury developed HACCP for NASA to
make safe food for astronauts. Given its success, in 1994 American Meat
Institute petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make HACCP mandatory
in all meat and poultry plants. USDA responded with a regulation and in 1998,
the industry began the three-year process of implementing HACCP in accordance
with federal rules.
Under HACCP, each plant must analyze the processes used to make
different types of product and must identify where problems may occur. Food
safety resources are then concentrated at these points. Essentially, HACCP is
built on a strategy of preventing problems rather than simply detecting them.
Federal inspectors are continuously present in the plants to determine that the
plant is following its own HACCP plan and the product being produced meets
federal standards. Since 1998 and the implementation of HACCP, there has been
steady and significant declines in the levels of bacteria present in meat and
plants use a variety of intervention strategies to eliminate forms of
contamination on products. Metal detectors are used to ensure that no piece of
metal - like a screw from a machine - makes its way into a product. Many beef
packers use steam pasteurization cabinets to pasteurize the outsides of
carcasses and destroy bacteria. Still other plants use a variety of hot water
washes and hand-held steam vacuums to ensure that carcasses are as clean as they
Reducing microbiological contamination in meat and poultry is a
priority for the meat and poultry industry. Because microbial pathogens are
invisible to the naked eye, and because they are difficult to detect quickly
using current technology, eliminating pathogens presents unique
tests conducted at meat plants on equipment or products include generic E. coli,
Listeria species and Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7. The
tests are conducted by companies or federal inspectors and are an additional
measure used to ensure that food safety systems are working
federal inspection apply the USDA seal to all products. The seal contains an
establishment number, which indicates the facility that produced the product.
The presence of the seal indicates that the product was produced in compliance
with industry regulations.
system, coupled with the industry's commitment to producing the safest food
possible, makes the U.S. meat and poultry supply is among the safest in the