WASHINGTON – A spokesman for Purdue Farms Inc., Maryland’slargest poultry company and the nation’s third largest, said thefirm conceptually supports an Agriculture Department proposalrequiring more frequent and scientific inspections for meat andpoultry.
“Anything that will allow us to provide the finest qualityproduct for consumers, we’re for,” said Purdue spokesman DickAuletta. “It seems to be trying to go in the right direction, andwe support the concept.”
But, he added, in reference to Purdue procedures, “as far asI’m concerned, ours are already state of the art.”
Purdue employs 1,768 workers in Salisbury, Md., saidcommunications manager Val Bembenek.
The Department of Agriculture on Tuesday released a plancalling for its most significant reform of meat and poultryinspection requirements since the original laws were passed in1906 and 1957.
The plan, which could be implemented after a 120-day hearingperiod, calls for USDA’s slaughterhouse inspections basedprimarily on sight, touch and smell to be replaced withinspections using scientific testing and prevention techniques.
The new proposal would:
* Require USDA inspectors to test poultry and meat productsrandomly each day at slaughterhouses for the presence ofsalmonella bacteria, the leading cause of food-borne illness.Products are not tested for salmonella under currentinspections.
* Mandate that plant workers use at least one anti-microbialtreatment on carcasses before slaughter plants cool them forshipment.
* Direct plants to follow time and temperature requirementsfor chilling finished carcasses and parts after slaughter.
* Order factories to establish written sanitation procedureswith daily checklists, available for USDA inspection.
Auletta said Purdue already has written sanitation codes inplace.
He declined to comment on the company’s other treatmenttechniques.
Michael R. Taylor, an acting under secretary for USDA’s FoodSafety and Inspection Service, said the proposals “mark afundamental shift” designed to reduce health risks.
“We are proposing a system that would directly target andreduce harmful bacteria and build prevention of food-borneillness into meat and poultry inspection,” Taylor said.
The USDA estimates that 5 million cases of illness and morethan 4,000 deaths nationwide may be associated with meat andpoultry products each year.
Michael Golden, a spokesman for the Maryland HealthDepartment, said food-borne bacteria caused 700 cases of illnessin Maryland last year – down from 1,224 the previous year. Nodeaths were reported in either year.
No statistics were available on how many of the illnesses inMaryland were caused by contaminated meat and poultry, Goldensaid.
Jacque Knight, a USDA spokeswoman, said the number of USDAinspectors at plants would probably not increase under the plan.More than 7,400 inspectors now work in 6,200 plants to enforcesanitary standards, the department said in a written statement.
The USDA estimates the industry would spend $733.5 millionover the first three years and $231 million each year afterwardto comply with the higher standards.
Auletta said he did not know if the requirements would costPurdue money.
There are about 180 slaughterhouses and processing plants inMaryland, of which 40 to 50 deal with poultry, USDA spokeswomanAnne McGuigan said. “Some of them are mom and pop, and they’re only open fromTuesday to Thursday when the moon is full. Some are open 24 hoursand we have three shifts of inspectors,” she said. -30-