Food (Safety) Fight Blog
By: Richard Raymond

Inspecting smarter

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

OK, I have established that I do not personally think another huge, monolithic bureaucracy is likely, nor can its creation alone improve food safety. And I have offered up my opinion that USDA/FSIS should inspect all things that have a heartbeat and food products that come from them. Everything else -- including all canned products and things made from processed meat and poultry -- would be under the authority of the FDA.

So what can be done with this reorganization to improve food safety in these tough economic times?

Risk-based inspection. FSIS tried very hard to get this done in their processing plants during the last four years, but it has been postponed until their new, improved PHIS computer system is up and running. This will provide better data and more uniform inspection activities to improve upon the risk prevention performance scores of the plants they are present in. Pretty simple, really. A plant with a poor performance record making an inherently riskier product like ground beef or ground chicken, will get more inspection than a plant with a sterling safety record and making a low risk product like baked canned hams.

This could be applied across the board to ALL food products produced in the US. All products could be ranked based on science and attribution data and using expert elicitation panels like FSIS uses to rank the products it inspects. The riskiest products get the most intense inspection, and the lowest risk products maybe get regular audits instead of daily inspection. Put the resources where the risk is greatest, and take the resources from where the risk is the lowest.

This is the 21st Century. Do we really need to be in every meat and poultry plant daily if most of what we are doing in some of them is temperature graph validation, or HACCP procedures validation? A lot of that can be done by electronic communication, just like we do for banking, shopping and for some, even dating.  By doing this E-inspection, time spent traveling from plant to plant today could be put to better use by increasing in-plant inspections in plants producing higher risk products.
To make this work, however, and not be a step backwards, there still has to be continuous inspection in some facilities, daily inspection for others and unscheduled, drop-in inspection in many others, all based on risk of product and plant safety performance record.

A famous woman in the meat business once said, “If you want to cut down on drunk drivers, you do not put your police outside of church on Sunday morning, you put them outside the bars on Saturday night.”

What do you think?

4/21/2009 1:37 PM 


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