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OBVIOUSLY, WE NEED A METHOD OF DETECTING DISEASES LIKE SALMONELLA AND CAMPYLOBACTER WITHIN A FEW HOURS OR MINUTES, NOT DAYS. THIS WILL ENABLE INSPECTORS TO IDENTIFY AND CONDEMN UNFIT POULTRY BEFORE IT IS SHIPPED FROM THE PLANT FOR CONSUMPTION.
FINALLY, FAST RECOMMENDS THAT THE USDA REQUIRE PLANTS TO DESTROY ALL CONDEMNED MEAT ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE SO THAT IT IS NOT LYING AROUND THE PLANT FOR AN ENTIRE SHIFT SUBJECTING WORKERS AND FRESH MEAT TO CONTAMINATION.
MR. CHAIRMAN, FAST IS NOT OPPOSED TO PROGRESSIVE CHANGE AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT WITHIN ANY INDUSTRY. HOWEVER, THERE IS A DEFINITE NEED FOR FEDERAL INSPECTION OF POULTRY PRODUCTS. WE AGREE THAT A NEW, MORE ACCURATE SYSTEM IS NEEDED. BUT UNTIL THAT SYSTEM IS READY, WE MUST WORK WITH AND IMPROVE THE BIRD-BY-BIRD SYSTEM WE ALREADY HAVE.
THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN FOR ALLOWING ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO TESTIFY AND I WOULD BE PLEASED TO ANSWER ANY OF YOUR QUESTIONS.
Food and Allied Service Trades Department, AFL-CIO
We would like to take the opportunity to submit comments on the issue of bacterial contamination of meat and poultry for inclusion in the record of your subcommittee's May 15, 1987 hearing on the Food Safety and Inspection Service's inspection activities and their relationship to the problem of meat and poultry contamination. As I believe you are aware, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs has done extensive research into this problem, including the role that contaminated meat and poultry play in causing a large percentage of the food poisoning cases that occur each year. Our work was summarized in a November, 1986 report which we have previously shared with you, Meat and Poultry Contamination: A Silent Public Health Hazard. As a result of our research, the City of New York has petitioned Congress and the U. S. Department of Agriculture to take various measures to ensure the wholesomeness of the meat and poultry offered for sale in this country.
An estimated 6.5 million cases of foodborne illness occur in the United States each year, at least half of which result from contaminated meat and poultry. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believe these figures are conservative, and estimate that Salmonella and Campylobacter, two bacteria which cause food poisoning, may alone be responsible for up to eight million cases of food poisoning. Other microbiologists have estimated that the total annual number of cases of foodborne illness could be over 28 million. A yet unpublished study recently completed by the Carter Center at Emory University estimates that 9,000 people die every year from food poisioning, often as a result of complications. National estimates of foodborne illness costs range from one to ten billion dollars a year in lost wages, medical expenses and related costs. Costs per case of food poisoning average between $200 and $2,000.
The significant role played by contaminated meat and poultry in causing food poisoning is evidenced by our own survey of meat and poultry products sold in New York City. Α sampling of 180 such products revealed that 53% of the raw chicken, 52% of the cooked roast beef, and 17% of the raw ground beef were contaminated with one or more bacteria known to cause food poisoning. As it becomes more evident that contaminated meat and poultry products are causing millions of cases of illness each year, there has been increasing discussion about what steps to take to ensure the wholesomeness of these products. Much of the debate has been focused on the inspection of the animals or products themselves, specifically, whether or not individual inspection of all products should be replaced by sampling.
While this in itself is an important issue, it is not the entire issue. In the course of our research, we studied the production cycles for meat and poultry products. It became evident to us that procedures at every stage of production need to be improved: from the raising of animals on bacteria-laden feed to unsanitary slaughter and eviseration procedures to improper handling of meat and poultry in kitchens and retail establishments, a cycle of contamination is perpetuated, the bacteria eventually infecting human victims.
Because contamination is perpetuated throughout the production process, measures need to be taken at every step along the way to prevent such contamination. This means that the United States Department of Agriculture must direct its efforts in other areas in addition to the inspection of carcasses and other products. The USDA should require more preventive sanitary practices in the feeding and handling of livestock and meat and poultry products, including mandating the use of uncontaminated feed and the maintenance of sanitary conditions in animal pens, transportation vehicles and slaughterhouses. Evisceration procedures must be improved so that bacteria-laden excrement is not smeared all over the carcasses. The Federal government must also promote consumer education on this issue and conduct research with the aim of improving sanitary conditions. Finally, Federal efforts must be complemented by local enforcement measures to ensure that meat and poultry products kept in retail cases are properly refrigerated so that bacteria do not propagate in them. Thus a variety of measures--not just regulatory--need to be employed to combat food poisoning.
The USDA's current meat and poultry inspection program has not been substantially modified since its inception in 1906. The serious problems we are facing today with food
poisoning in this country evidence the need to entirely overhaul the Federal regulatory system as it relates to meat and poultry products.