The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that all ground beef and poultry products will now be subject to a “hold and test” rule by as early as February 2013. The new rule aims to make meat safer and reduce the number of foodborne illnesses and recalls due to bacteria contaminates such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria before these products reach consumers.
According to NBC News smaller meat producers, including those who specialize in fresh ground beef, worried that the new regulations would force them to hold product too long for test results, sacrificing quality and safety, according to comments posted in response to the proposal. But FSIS officials said they anticipate that negative test results will be determined within two days.
Still, federal workers’ unions and food safety groups are opposed to the new rules and are concerned that the proposed changes would reduce the number of federal inspectors stationed in poultry slaughter plants, replacing government inspectors with plant workers and increase production speeds to unsafe levels.
The Baltimore Sun reports that under the new guidelines, the proposal would increase the speed of processing lines to 175 birds per minute, a five-fold increase over the current speed of 35 per minute. At the new rate, the critics say, inspectors would have less than a third of a second to examine each carcass.
Over the course of two years, foodborne illnesses have increased by 44 percent. NBC News also reports that according to officials, if the new requirement had been in place between 2007 and 2010, it could have prevented 49 of the 251 meat, poultry and processed egg product recalls that occurred during that time.