- WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government's new system for preventing contamination in
processing plants is known by the acronym HACCP. Some meat and poultry
inspectors sardonically say that means: "Have A Cup of Coffee and
- Actually, it means "Hazard Analysis
and Critical Control Points," a system beginning Monday for the 312
largest meat and poultry processing plants that account for 75 percent
of livestock slaughtered in the United States. It will be phased in over
two years in the remaining 6,100 plants.
- "We definitely have our work cut
out for us, as there are many disturbing pitfalls and apparent weaknesses,"
Randy Wurtele, western president of the National Joint Council of Food
Inspection Locals, said in a letter on the union council's Internet site.
- Focus On Problem Prevention
- Under the new regime, plants install
their own facilities' preventive measures to reduce E. coli and salmonella
bacteria and improve sanitation. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said
the system is a "revolutionary improvement" over the old approach's
reliance on sight, touch and smell.
- "Rather than catching problems after
they occur, we will now focus on preventing problems in the first place,"
- HACCP systems involve identifying points
in a processing plant where contamination is most likely to occur and finding
methods to combat it. Each plant can design its own HACCP system but must
meet certain standards.
- Some of the 7,500 federal inspectors
on the front lines say relying on company workers to keep records on how
well the systems operate places too much faith in the honesty of corporations
out to make a profit.
- For example, companies are required to
test for E. coli, a strain of which can cause serious illness or even death
in humans. But no federal inspector will oversee the tests, and companies
need only make available their own results, which Wurtele said could be
- Thomas J. Billy, head of USDA's Food
Safety and Inspection Service, said federal inspectors will do random E.
coli sampling and compare results. The government could order corrective
action, Billy said, "if we see an aberration."
- 'A public relations ploy'
- Inspectors have voiced other worries,
including a bacteria-sampling plan exempting certain kinds of animals and
the lack of a requirement that the industry document qualifications of
workers who make changes in HACCP systems.
- The rules are "a public relations
ploy" aimed mainly at shifting blame for outbreaks of food-borne illness
from the government to private industry, Wurtele said.
- "We cannot sit still when we see
obvious shortcomings," he said.
- Glickman insisted the new rules go further
to control food-borne pathogens, and inspectors will have greater ability
to close plants that show patterns of noncompliance with HACCP systems.
- In addition, he said, plant inspectors
will continue visual inspections of carcasses and have more freedom to
check out overall operations than before.
- Glickman said he also will push Congress
to allow the department to impose fines on violators and issue mandatory
recalls of bad product. An administration bill to do that has been stuck
in committee since last fall.
- "We really have no regulatory tools
except for a shutdown," Glickman said. "We can fine circuses
for mistreating elephants ..., but we can't fine companies that violate