7,500 Strong: The Gargantuan Cost of the Federal Meat and Poultry Inspection Program

Posted on 30 Nov 2014 21:15

Food fear-mongers often lament the dangers of our food supply. The truth is, however, that our food supply is safer than ever before.

Although cases of food-poisoning from meat do occur on a regular basis, the vast majority of these cases stem from cross-contamination after the meat has been purchased and is being prepared.

Therefore, improper handling is the culprit. It would be impossible to completely eliminate all potential pathogens from meat and poultry, but proper handling and cooking can prevent the danger from most of the pathogens that do exist. The federal inspection program still leaves a lot to be desired, it is true, but many people are unaware of the vast resources the USDA must use to test and inspect meat and poultry.

Every single meat and poultry packing operation has a USDA meat or poultry inspector present during every minute of operation, not to mention import inspectors. The number of these inspectors is staggering: Over 7,500! The cost? Over one million dollars per day. That is about eight times what the FDA spends to regulate all the rest of the food supply. Food plants regulated by the FDA, on average, don't even get inspected once a year.

Does this mean that every single ounce of meat that passes into the market is guaranteed safe? No, of course not. But while all the meat and poultry packing plants have an inspector present at all times, a restaurant, supermarket, or any other operation that orders and prepares meat may hardly ever be expected. The fact is that if you become sick after eating chicken, beef, etc. it is most likely due to improper handling or storage, and due to cross-contamination; or improper storage temperatures, etc.

One way that all sectors of the food industry, including food processors and food-service businesses, can minimize the risk of contamination is through HACCP.

HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. This system was first developed by Pillsbury in the early 1970's to help with quality control for its products that were to be used in the U.S. space program. The FDA too up the program and soon began requiring HACCP controls for canned food manufacturers, in 1973. By the mid-80's HACCP beginning to be embraced industry-wide, even trickling down from manufacturing to food-service. You can read more about HCCAP on the FDA website here

1. FSIS. "Food Inspector & Consumer Safety Inspector Positions." Food Inspector and Consumer Safety Inspector Positions. USDA.gov, 9 July 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

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