The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced a final rule amending poultry slaughter regulations and establishing a new poultry inspection system (NPIS) for young chicken and turkey slaughter establishments. Part of USDA’s response to a presidential executive order (E.O. 13563) asking agencies to review and improve existing regulations, the final rule aims to “facilitate pathogen reduction in poultry products, improve the effectiveness of poultry slaughter inspection, make better use of the Agency’s resources, and remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation.”

Optional for young chicken and turkey establishments, which can choose to retain their current inspection system, NPIS will not replace the Streamlined Inspection System (SIS), the New Line Speed Inspection System (NELS) or the New Turkey Inspection System (NTIS), as was originally proposed. FSIS has emphasized, however, that NPIS will allow inspectors “to perform more offline inspection activities that are more effective in ensuring food safety, while providing for a more efficient and effective online carcass-by-carcass inspection.” In particular, the new system will (i) “requir[e] that establishment personnel sort carcasses and remove unacceptable carcasses and parts before the birds are presented to the FSIS carcass inspector”; (ii) “shift[] Agency resources to conduct more offline inspection activities that are more effective in ensuring food safety, which will allow for one offline verification inspector per line per shift and will reduce the number of online inspectors to one”; (iii) “replac[e] the Finished Product Standards (FPS), which will apply to establishments that continue operating under SIS, NELS, and NTIS, with a requirement that establishments that operate under the NPIS maintain records to document that the products resulting from their slaughter operations meet the definition of ready-to-cook (RTC) poultry”; and (iv) “authoriz[e] young chicken slaughter establishments to operate at a maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute (bpm), provided that they maintain process control.”

Regardless of the inspection system used, the final rule will also require all poultry facilities “to take measures to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs.” To this end, poultry slaughter establishments must integrate these measures into their hazard analysis and critical control points plans and standard operating procedures, in addition to conducting microbial sampling and analysis “at the pre- and post-chill points in the process to monitor process control for enteric pathogens.”

“The United States has been relying on a poultry inspection model that dates back to 1957, while rates of foodborne illness due to Salmonella and Campylobacter remain stubbornly high. The system we are announcing today imposes stricter requirements on the poultry industry and places our trained inspectors where they can better ensure food is being processed safely. These improvements make use of sound science to modernize food safety procedures and prevent thousands of illnesses each year,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a July 31, 2014, press release. Once the final rule is published in the Federal Register, all young chicken and turkey slaughter establishments will have six months to notify their district offices if they intend to operate under NPIS.