Meat Inspection - Regulatory Requirements and Best Practices

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: July 11, 2009
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Meat production is the most highly regulated food industry. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for developing rules and regulations for the production of wholesome and safe foods and providing regulatory oversight during day-to-day production. The combination of regulatory oversight and the commitment and dedication of the industry should allow consumers to purchase and prepare meat products with confidence in the safety of the product. Food safety begins with the estab-lishment, includes regulatory verification, and ends with the consumer.

The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (FMIA) was a United States Congress Act that worked to prevent adulterated or misbranded meat and meat products from being sold as food and to ensure that meat and meat products are slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions. The law was partly a response to the publication of Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, an exposé of the Chicago meat packing industry, as well as to other Progressive Era muckraking publications of the day.

Key features

The original 1906 Act authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to inspect and condemn any meat product found unfit for human consumption.

  • All labels on any type of food had to be accurate (although not all ingredients were provided on the label).
  • Even though all harmful food was banned, there were still a few warnings provided on the container.
  • USDA inspection of poultry was added by the Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1957.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for all meats not listed in the FMIA or PPIA, including venison and buffalo, although USDA does offer a voluntary, fee-for-service inspection program for buffalo.

Requirements of the Act
These requirements also apply to imported meat products, which must be inspected under equivalent foreign standards. The primary requirements of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 are:

  • Mandatory inspection of livestock before slaughter (cattle, sheep, goats, equines, and swine.
  • Mandatory postmortem inspection of every carcass.
  • Sanitary standards established for slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.
  • Authorized U.S. Department of Agriculture ongoing monitoring and inspection of slaughter and processing operations.

Functions of meat inspection

  • Detection and destruction of diseased meat and/or contaminated meat.
  • Assurance of clean and sanitary handling and preparation
  • Minimization of microbiological contamination of meat.
  • Prevention of adulteration (the addition of harmful substances or products considered im-proper in certain specified quantities) and the presence of chemical or drug residues.
  • Prevention of false labeling.
  • Application of inspection insignia.

Areas of responsibility for meat inspection

Area of Responsibility Functions
Facilities construction and operational sanitation
  • Every establishment must develop, implement, and maintain effective Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). These procedures are intended to prevent direct product contamination or adulteration, and focus on pre-operational and operational activities.
  • Operational sanitation must be observed stringently. This includes specifications for water supply, drainage, waste disposal, lighting, ventilation, refrigeration, insect and rodent control.
  • Manpower: continuous inspection patrol, re-inspection privilege, surveillance of workers.
Humane Handling and Antemortem Inspection The inspection process starts with the live animal.
  • Ante-mortem inspection involves a visual and physical evaluation of the live animal prior to slaughter to identify any conditions that may indicate disease or illness.
  • The inspection personnel are responsible for identifying any high-risk animals and making determinations to allow them to enter the food chain or to condemn them from entering.
  • These actions are taken to ensure that meat is safe and wholesome for consumption.
  • Humane handling has long been of interest to both the Agency and the industry.
  • The beef industry has studied the behavior and movement of cattle and designed pens, walkways and equipment to improve the handling of livestock.
  • In early 2002 the FSIS placed 17 District Veterinary Medical Specialists (DVMS) in the field to deal specifically with the oversight of humane handling issues.
  • Strict guidelines are in place and strongly enforced to pre-vent the mishandling of animals.
Postmortem Inspection
  • The inspectors are responsible for conducting a thorough examination of the lymph nodes, organs, and entire carcass to identify signs of disease and unwholesome conditions.
  • This inspection process involves all slaughtered animals.
  • The postmortem inspection allows inspectors to further evaluate the carcass and tissues from any animal they sus-pected to be a high risk during antemortem inspection.
  • If any carcass or its parts are identified as diseased or un-wholesome then they are condemned and prevented from entering the food supply.
  • This is a complete system to prevent diseased animals from entering the food supply.
Product Inspection
  • The inspection system continues throughout the entire processing segment of the industry, including both raw and fully cooked products.
  • Processing inspectors are responsible for processed meat products and all other ingredients contained in the finished product.
  • These inspectors are responsible for cured and smoked products, frozen dinners, canned meats, and other proc-essed products.
  • They must verify that the establishment is maintaining sani-tary conditions and following all procedures and labeling regulations.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)
  • The use of HACCP as a process control for food safety is not new to the food industry or to the meat industry.
  • Many establishments were utilizing HACCP before the release of FSIS' Pathogen Reduction/HACCP final rule on July 25, 1996.
  • The release of the HACCP rule is probably the most significant change for meat inspection since the 1967 amendment to the Act.
  • As the name implies, there are two components to the 1996 rule: 1) the reduction of pathogens, and 2) the development and implementation of HACCP systems.
  • The pathogen reduction part of the rule includes the Salmonella Performance Standard and the generic E. coli testing.
  • The regulation was phased in over a three-year period with the final implementation dates in early 2000.
  • Today, all federally and state-inspected establishments are operating under a HACCP system and all new establishments must have a HACCP Inspected Meat system developed before receiving a grant of inspection.
  • HACCP allows establishments to identify food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur in the process or type of product being produced and establish points of control to prevent them from occurring.
  • HACCP is a science-based process control system that focuses on preventing food safety problems.
  • The role of the FSIS inspector in a HACCP system is to verify that the establishment has developed and is implementing the HACCP system as designed.
  • The Consumer Safety Officer (CSO) is responsible for conducting a comprehensive assessment of the establishment's food safety system to see if it is an adequately designed and supportable program that will control food safety hazards.
Residue and Microbiological Testing
  • FSIS has an on-going residue monitoring program to detect and prevent the misuse of chemicals (i.e., antibiotics) dur-ing the production of livestock.
  • The Agency is responsible for identifying any high-risk ani-mals and collecting samples for laboratory analysis to de-termine if violative levels of chemical residues are present.
  • The industry has been working with the Agency to continue to decrease the possibility of chemical contamination by promoting educational programs for livestock producers and implementing quality systems, such as the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.
  • Through the efforts of both the Agency and the industry, the risk of chemical residues in beef will continue to de-cline.
  • Microbiological contamination is another major issue facing the meat industry.
  • Pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella are concerns on fully cooked, ready-to-eat products.
  • The FSIS personnel randomly select finished products to test for these pathogens.
  • Any products that are found to be contaminated will be prevented from entering the food supply or will be recalled if already in commerce.
The USDA Inspection Legend
  • The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service have author-ity over the production of wholesome and safe meat prod-ucts.
  • Each federally inspected establishment is granted an estab-lishment number that is placed on the official inspection legend.
  • The inspection legend is stamped onto carcasses at various locations and placed onto product labels of packaged meats.
  • The application of the inspection legend means that the operation has complied with all of the Agency's regulatory requirements.



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