WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) posted a final rule that establishes an optional new inspection system for pork processors.

Despite pushback from consumer and labor groups, FSIS said the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) improves the effectiveness of hog slaughter, makes better use of FSIS resources and enables industry innovation by establishing maximum line speeds while allowing processors to reconfigure evisceration lines, the agency said. Companies that choose not to operate under NSIS can operate under their existing inspection system, but all pork processors must develop sampling plans tailored to their specific operations. The agency said the new system likely would result in a lower prevalence of Salmonella on market hog carcasses and thus lead to fewer human foodborne illnesses.

“This regulatory change allows us to ensure food safety while eliminating outdated rules and allowing for companies to innovate,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “The final rule is the culmination of a science-based and data-driven rule making process which builds on the food safety improvements made in 1997, when the U.S.D.A. introduced a system of preventive controls for industry. With this rule, FSIS will finally begin full implementation of that program in swine establishments.”

Under the NSIS:

  • FSIS will shift agency resources to allow up to two offline verification inspectors per line per shift while reducing the number of online inspectors to a maximum of three per line per shift.
  • Plant personnel will be required to sort and remove unfit animals before ante-mortem inspection by FSIS inspectors and to trim and identify defects on carcasses before post-mortem inspection.
  • Plant personnel also must identify with a unique tag, tattoo, or similar device any animals or carcasses that they have sorted and removed for disposal before FSIS inspection and processors must develop, implement, and maintain written procedures in their HACCP system to ensure that animals and carcasses sorted and removed for disposal do not enter the human food supply and are properly disposed of according to federal regulations.
  • Processors must maintain records that document the total number of animals and carcasses sorted and removed per day and the reasons for their removal.
  • Plant personnel must notify FSIS inspectors if they identify an animal or carcass they suspect has a reportable or foreign animal disease such as African Swine Fever, classical swine fever or Nipah virus.
  • Processors must maintain records that show their products meet the new definition of ready-to-cook pork.
  • Processors are authorized to determine their own line speeds based on their ability to maintain process control for preventing fecal contamination and meet microbial performance measures for carcasses during the slaughter operation. However, FSIS retains the ability to slow or stop the line.

Industry groups applauded the new rule.

“The U.S. pork production system is the envy of the world because we continuously adopt new practices and technologies, while enhancing safety, quality and consistency," said David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council. "This new inspection system codifies the advancements we have made into law, reflecting a 21st century industry.”

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said the rule allows for innovations in food safety while ensuring consumers have access to wholesome pork products.

“Although we have not reviewed the final rule in detail, FSIS has created this system by relying on science and years of experience that will continue to ensure the consumer is getting safe and wholesome pork,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of NAMI. “The New Swine Inspection System will allow plants who choose to participate an opportunity for food safety innovation, a benefit to consumers and our industry at large. Under both the new and existing systems, our members’ highest priorities are to provide safe products to the public and to ensure the workforce on which they depend, is also safe.”

FSIS also made several changes that will impact all pork processors regardless of the inspection system they choose. The changes include the requirement that all pork processors must develop, implement, and maintain in their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs), or other prerequisite programs. Processors must also have written procedures to prevent the contamination of carcasses and parts by pathogens.

“These procedures must include sampling and analysis for microbial organisms to monitor process control for enteric pathogens, as well as written procedures to prevent visible fecal material, ingesta, and milk contamination,” the rule states.

Processors also are required to collect and test two samples — one sample at pre-evisceration and one sample at post-chill. Processors that bone their pork products before chilling will be required to collect a pre-evisceration sample and a second sample after the final wash instead of at post-chill.

The NSIS is the result of several years of experimentation by FSIS which investigated new approaches to slaughter inspections based on HACCP principles starting in 1996. The agency launched a study of HACCP-based slaughter inspections in 20 young chicken, five young turkey and five market hog establishments on a waiver basis as part of the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) in 1997.