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USDA Revises Poultry Plant Inspections

Update Date: Aug 01, 2014 10:59 AM EDT

For the first time in over 50 years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided to overhaul poultry plant inspections in order to reduce the yearly rate of foodborne illnesses. The changes stress the importance of examining food based on safety as opposed to quality.

"This is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system into the 21st century," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said reported by USA Today.

The newest rules, which were announced this Thursday, will lower the number of federal poultry inspectors. The remaining inspectors will be instructed to test the food mainly for its safety. They will be trained to better detect hazards within the workplace and encouraged to test for pathogens in the foods and facilities. Since these rules will not be mandatory, companies that do not opt in will have the same amount of government inspectors in their facilities.

The rules will also allow companies to partake in a voluntary system where they can inspect their own birds for any defects before the government inspectors come in. The USDA hopes that if companies can be more proactive, the government would not need as many inspectors.

"By allowing plant employees to conduct some preliminary sorting duties, federal inspectors will be freed to further verify testing on the spot, examine sanitation standards and enforcing safeguards throughout a processing plant," said Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation reported by FOX News.

Although the rules are voluntary, the nation's largest poultry companies are expected to follow them. However, companies will be required to use microbiological testing at two separate points during the production process regardless of whether or no they choose to adopt the latest rules. The microbiological testing will help prevent salmonella and campylobacter. The USDA believes that if companies choose to opt in, roughly 5,000 foodborne illness could be prevented each year.

So far, the chicken and turkey industries have already praised the new rules.

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