SALEM, Ohio — Consumers should get ready to put out some extra cash for that cheeseburger if the USDA implements new regulations for meat processors.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service requires meat processors to meet certain pathogen reduction, sanitation and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP, regulations to ensure safe meat. It’s the validation and documentation issue in the latest round of directives that’s the number one concern for many meat processors.
There are actually two aspects to validation; the first is supporting documentation that will include scientific articles from peer-reviewed journals, published processing guidelines or regulatory performance standards. This would be met by most processors with ease.
The second is in-plant validation that would include in-plant observations, measurements, microbial test results and other information demonstrating the control measures can be implemented.
According to the American Association of Meat Processors, even though the establishment is collecting and monitoring the activities, it only demonstrates the procedure was followed but does not ensure the activity was enough to control the pathogens. That is why microbial sampling would be required.
Chris Raines, an assistant professor of meat science and technology at Penn State University, said the federal regulations are not new, they were part of the regulations instituted in 1996, but were not enforced. Nevertheless, he said they aren’t going to go away.
The problem for most is the interpretation of the regulations. The USDA has extended the comment period for the regulations through June 19. The USDA will collect comments until then on how the regulations should be implemented.
Jay Wenther, Ph.D., executive director for the American Association of Meat Processors, agreed the interpretation of the regulations is an issue.
“They aren’t going to do anything to further food safety,” Wenther said.
“Small individual processors are a unique business. They do a variety of business and have niches,” Wenther said.
He added the regulations could require all of those niches to be tested, increasing the costs. This increase could mean a business chooses not to produce the product because the cost will be too great.
Many of the niche products are considered to be what has kept small processors going during the tough economy because it allows them to offer meat products larger chains can’t offer.
Wenther said the FSIS feels the system needs to be rebuilt from the bottom, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t believe the system is that badly broken to have to start from the bottom. They need to identify the issues and focus more attention to fixing those,” Wenther said.
The AAMP and the Ohio Association of Meat Processors are not only concerned by how much data would need collected, but with how many types of products would need sampled.
If a processor makes bratwurst and bratwurst with cheese, for example, how much analysis needs to be done on both?
Marion Pacula, of Winesburg Meats in Holmes County, is a director with the Ohio Association of Meat Processors. He said simply this could type of regulation could put a lot of meat processors out of business or, at the very least, raise consumers’ prices.
“If we have to do it for each and every item, then can you imagine what that will do the consumers cost?” Pacula asked.
Eric Amstutz, of Tank’s Meats in Elmore, Ohio, said the costs will hit small processors hard, and said his plant would be hurt based on his interpretation of the regulations. Amstutz added his plant has 12 different processes, but between 400-500 labels.
Amstutz said if a processor produces a snack stick with beef and one with beef and pork, then both would require the costly testing because the FSIS sees the pork has a new potential for hazards.
“There is just no way a small processor will be able to carry all of the burden themselves. This could be fatal for many small processors,” Amstutz said.
Pacula said he believes what should be done is what he has always believed should be done; random inspections.
“Keep it scientifically based,” Pacula said.
He added that if a processor is doing what it should all of the time, there would be no problem. He said it would be easy, either the product is kept safe or the business is shut down.
Pacula added the USDA is willing to put new increased regulations into place but is not considering how a business should pay for it or how it could be implemented economically.
— Slaughter HACCP (per species): Initial validation cost: $2,300; ongoing validation cost: $700 annually
— Fresh processing HACCP (per product): Initial validation cost: $2,000; ongoing validation cost: $650 annually
— RTE processing HACCP (per product): Initial validation cost: $12,000; ongoing validation cost: $3,600 annually
— Shelf stable HACCP (per product): Initial validation cost: $3,700; ongoing validation cost: $1,100
Source: American Association of Meat Processors