Food Safety Official Discusses Proposed HIMP Rule

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm talked with Meatingplace on the proposed new poultry slaughter inspection system based on the 15-year pilot program called HIMP - the HACCP-based Inspection Model Project. The new HIMP rules would allow young chicken line speeds to increase to 175-birds per minute from the current 140-birds per minute - which would eliminate the need for nearly 800 unionized federal inspector jobs. Some people worry fewer inspectors and faster line speeds may pose problems for safe poultry - but USDA officials say it works because moving some inspectors off the evisceration line gives them the opportunity to take more time to ensure the plant's safety measures properly work.

Ronholm says currently one to four inspectors are positioned at fixed points on each evisceration line and are responsible for identifying carcasses with a range of quality and safety defects. Under the proposed HIMP rules - he says employees must identify, trim and remove these carcasses - while one FSIS carcass inspectors stays at one position and inspects the plant's effectiveness at these tasks. As for the new speed - he says inspectors can slow the line if they see the plant isn't maintaining good process control - and as many sorters can be put in place as needed to maintain process control. Ronholm says FSIS inspectors are consumers' first line of defense against foodborne illness - and currently a portion of their time is spent doing quality control for establishments - which has nothing to do with food safety. These inspectors are responsible for verifying establishments are minimizing pathogens as much as possible - and he says the proposed inspection system would allow them to focus on those activities more effectively.

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