A pair of US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors are warning that unsafe pork may find its way onto grocery store shelves and into Americans’ homes after a Trump administration rule change that will ease safety assessment standards.
Under the new rule, only two to three federal safety inspectors will examine pork from afar before it’s butchered – instead of as many as seven hands-on government inspectors under the old rule.
‘The consumer’s being duped,’ Food Safety Inspection Service whistleblower Jill Mauer told NBC News.
She and her colleague, Anthony Vallone, say that the new reduced man power inspections are simply not thorough enough to ensure that the meat is safe.
‘I can’t stand silent and watch this go across the nation with the potential of the American public getting contaminated food, adulterated food, and not what they think they’re gonna get,’ Mauer said.
Several USDA inspectors who have observed the new inspection process warn that it moves too fast, keeps federally qualified professionals too far away from animal carcasses and raises the risk the product that still has feces and reproductive organs could reach shelves (file)
Some 3,000 Americans die of food poisoning every year.
It’s difficult to trace and parse what particular foods caused these illnesses, but pork is commonly contaminated with E. coli, Salmonella, S. aureus and yersinia entercolitica.
Federal testing completed and released in 2018 revealed that nearly 80 percent of supermarket meat had at least one kind of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on it.
And pork had among the worst track records.
More than 70 percent of pork chops tested were contaminated with hard-to-treat bacteria.
Proper cooking can reduce the risk of contracting an infection from these bugs, but that should be only the final safeguard in a multi-faceted set of preventive measures.
Among the earliest of these is the inspection of hog carcasses.
Traditionally, processing plants employ several federally certified inspectors who work on the processing line, checking the carcasses for hair, feces, sex organs, bladder and unwanted hair, Mauer told NBC News.
Regulations also throttle how quickly the meat can be passed through processing to help ensure that inspectors are thorough and don’t rush through their work.
But now the inspectors told NBC News that federal regulators’ roles are going to be significantly reduced.
They claim that the new system – announced in September – will place the highly trained inspectors at a distance from the processing line, overseeing plant employees, rather than doing direct inspections.
Two or three USDA inspectors will now watch the employees to make sure their work, rather than the pork itself, is up to snuff.
At the time the new system was announce, USDA Secretary said: ‘This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate.’
Five plants have already adopted the new model in a testing program, called the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project.
The inpectors that spoke to NBC News have been to these plants, and safety and innovation are not exactly what they describe.
Instead, they said that pork is moving too fast through processing and the federal regulators aren’t getting a good enough look at the meat to verify its safety.
Plant employees, they say, are more motivated by their employers’ need for speed.
‘At that chain speed, it’s hard for any human to identify what they need to,’ Vallone told NBC News.
‘But, you know, as they push more hogs through the door, and they’re not identifying even basic pathology like every inspector does [there’s a] possibility of having pathological hots into your food source.’
The USDA did not return DailyMail.com’s request for comment at the time of publication, but told NBC News that its inspectors can always slow down the process if they believe its necessary.
It points to these five existing plants – which have been operational for 18 years – as evidence that the new method is safe.
A 2013 report from the Office of the Inspector General, however, says that’s not the case, citing lack of oversight as the reason that HIMP plants ‘may have a higher potential for food safety risks.’
If the whistleblowers’ complaints aren’t taken to heart, the new system will soon roll out plants that process about 92 percent of the pork sold and eaten in the US.
And, according to NBC News, the Trump administration is already poised to take aim at the beef industry, where it reportedly intends to introduce the same new rules.