A recent New York Times report has claimed that the failure of a new computer system used by meatpacking and processing plant inspectors did not stop untested shipments of beef, poultry, pork, and lamb from reaching consumers. According to an August 17, 2013, article by Ron Nixon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) acknowledged the August 8, 2013, system failure but “played down the threat to public safety and insisted that the breakdown of the $20-million computer system had not compromised the nation’s meat supply.”
Designed to speed up the inspection process, which involves sending meat samples to laboratories to test for E. coli and other contaminants, the new computer system is an important piece of USDA’s plan “to provide real-time information about the conditions at meat processing plants and make it easy for the agency to track food safety problems before they led to outbreaks.” But Nixon notes that ongoing glitches—some of which USDA’s Office of Inspector General apparently disclosed in a March 2013 report—have increasingly frustrated inspectors who claim that the system’s daily problems are as “potentially dangerous as the larger failures.” As the OIG report reportedly revealed, auditors found that some plants had not properly sampled millions of pounds of ground beef for months at a time due to issues with the computerized inspection process.
“I was one of the testers on the system in 2010 when it was still in the development phase,” one inspector told Nixon. “I sent reports in every day about issues we were having. Today the same problems are still happening.”