USDA memo cites some safety problems in handling of meatNovember 20, 1998
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The USDA told CNN on Thursday night that an internal memo had been written by a USDA official telling meat manufacturers' district managers that visiting inspectors from other countries had found violations of safe handling practices.
"Any problems found were immediately corrected," said Linda Swacina, a spokesperson for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA.
The Des Moines Register reported the memo Thursday. The memo was written by Mark Mina, deputy administrator of the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Swacina said the memo was written to highlight the safety problems found so the district managers would be on alert for such problems.
Swacina also confirmed that in the memo, Mina charges that some unidentified plants are operating with serious deviations from U.S. standards as well as those of the importing country.
She said some of those deviations include "direct carcass contamination from careless dressing procedures." During careless dressing, stomach contents and feces can be scattered through the carcass, possibly contaminating it with E. coli and other bacteria.
"I don't want to say these aren't serious problems, but any problems found were corrected immediately. These things happen from time to time in a plant, whether the product is for domestic use or for export, said Swacina.
Carol Tucker Foreman, of the Safe Food Coalition, saw the internal memo and said some of the items were bureaucratic and didn't affect food safety -- things like gravel in the parking lot and insufficient lockers for inspectors. But others, she said, were serious, such as sterilizers not getting to proper temperatures and dirty work surfaces.
There are about 6,000 plants in the country for beef and poultry. Only about 300 of those are slaughter plants. There are 7,500 meat and poultry inspectors in this country. Swacina says all plants are inspected at least once a day, and slaughterhouses are inspected all day long.
Foreman said the items listed in the memo are a cause for concern, not a cause for "great screaming alarm". Of biggest concern, she said, is if we don't hold up our high standards in our own country, it's going to be hard to demand other countries rise to our standards.
She said every year in this country 9,000 people die from food-borne illnesses. That includes all pathogens including those from fruits and vegetables.
The USDA's Swacina said, "We believe that we have the safest food supply in the world, not to say that problems don't occur, but we work very hard to correct them immediatley."
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