Two Reports Cite Food Inspection Weaknesses at USDA

Pew Charitable Trusts has released a study that claims recent salmonella outbreaks that sickened hundreds of people underscore serious weaknesses in USDA's oversight of poultry plants.

Sandra Eskin - Director of Pew's Food Safety Campaign - says the system we have in place wasn't working when more than five-hundred people get sick from a food-borne illness outbreak.

Consumer Reports also published an investigation Thursday that suggests lapses at USDA have contributed to the prevalence of potentially harmful bacteria in store-bought chicken. The investigation was funded by Pew.

USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service says the reports confirm the need for measures already underway at FSIS to prevent food-borne illness.

Mike Brown - National Chicken Council President - notes pathogen testing shows rates of salmonella and E.coli have declined in poultry plants over the last decade. He says eliminating bacteria entirely is always the goal - but simply isn't feasible in reality.

Pew and Consumer Reports called for USDA to be more aggressive in pushing for recalls and alerting the public to potential outbreaks. They believe Congress should pass legislation to give USDA mandatory recall authority. Currently, USDA can't force recalls like the Food and Drug Administration can.

Pew also said the outbreaks create a new urgency for USDA to focus on prevention efforts - and recommended the department abandon its practice of letting plants know when pathogen testing will be performed.

Consumer Reports called on USDA to abandon plans to finalize a new poultry inspection system. But according to a department spokesman - the concerns raised in both reports offer further evidence the new system should move forward as planned.

A statement said the additional requirements in the modernization proposal - such as microbial testing, contamination prevention and stronger food safety inspection activities - will allow FSIS to make significant progress in reducing illnesses.

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