New proposed rules for poultry set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will increase the maximum line speed for processing chickens at plants from 140f birds a minute to 175 birds a minute, nearly doubling it.
Now, the USDA is defending the measure. The Atlantic Journal-Constitution writes that USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service spokesman Dirk Fillpot said in a statement that it would "ensure and even enhance the safety of the poultry supply by focusing our inspectors' efforts on activities more directly tied to improving food safety."
FSIS said that it's a reasonable speed because plant workers will have already sorted most birds for defects and disease, so inspectors wil have less to look for. But new regulations won't have the inspectors checking each bird's chest cavity, often a hiding place for fecal contamination.
The Nation wrote in an April article that the USDA believes the approach will save $90 million in taxpayer money by cutting the number of online inspectors, while also lowering dangers to consumers. But how can companies expect to do more with less? The publication examines the USDA's claim that a reorganization of the current methods is all it needs to do:
According to the USDA, the fact that inspectors will pass more birds allows for an increase in line speed, as time spent ordering alterations will be minimized. And with the need for fewer online inspectors, the USDA argues, it would be free to focus more staff attention on the largest cause of food-borne illnesses—pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter—which can’t be detected by a visual examination, by ensuring plants are following the proper sanitation and antimicrobial programs. ...
Yet while the USDA is proposing to increase line speeds dramatically, a growing body of evidence points to widespread dangers already faced by poultry workers.
Those dangers include injuries on the job and hand pain from never-ending repetitive motions, which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis.
HuffPost's Dave Jamieson spoke with poultry workers earlier this year about the already difficult conditions in processing plants:
"Some would come into the plant and work one hour, and resign because it was too fast to keep up with," the 33-year-old from Puerto Rico said in Spanish through a translator, asking that his former plant not be named. Polanco-Mercado's job was to hang individual chickens on hooks, preparing them for disassembly down the line, filling a quota of between 57 and 60 chickens per minute, or roughly one every second, he said.
Jamieson also spoke with Tom Fritzsche, a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center who handles several poultry worker cases. Fritzsche called the USDA measure a "bad idea" and stressed that workers' most common complaint is that the existing line speeds are "already too fast."
The Los Angeles Times wrote in June that the USDA had been testing the system with promising results. The measure would cut the number of government poultry inspectors by 800, and the line speed would increase by 25 percent. But, as the paper notes, new processes have a way of looking better during pilot programs when everyone is most alert and on their best behavior. The reality might be different:
Unlike bona fide government inspectors, plant employees will be all too aware that whenever they pull a product off the line, they're costing money to the company that employs them. So even if the owners and managers are scrupulous about not pressuring employees, there's a built-in incentive to let marginal problems pass through. ...
Meanwhile, there's virtually no point to the USDA inspector under this program except to make sure that the plant's employees aren't allowing the most visible and obvious problems to pass. More subtle signs of trouble are likely to go unnoticed, given that each inspector will have about a third of a second to examine each chicken carcass.
So why is the USDA doing this? To improve food safety, they argue. A few months after the measure was proposed, the Consumer Federation of America released a report that said the Center for Disease Control has failed to meet its goals to reduce the number of infections from campylobacter, salmonella and listeria. In fact, illnesses stemming from those pathogens have increased in the period from 2007 through 2011 as compared to the period between 2006 and 2008. Combined, the three contribute to about 48 million illnesses a year.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the article stated that the rules had already been put in place, when in fact they are only proposed. Also, the current line speed is 140 birds per minute, not 91 as previously stated.
A common bacterial infection producing severe gastrointestinal upset that can hang around as long as two weeks. It's rarely fatal in healthy people. <strong>The culprits: </strong>Improperly slaughtered or processed meat not thoroughly cooked, contaminated vegetables, milk or water. Pets can also shed the bacteria through their "business." <strong>What it feels like: </strong>You'd pay closer attention to the flulike symptoms (fever, aches and pains) if you weren't running to the bathroom every 15 minutes of your life. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have: </strong>Plucked that mass-processed pack of pork chops out of the "manager's special" bin. Also, if you really need to be told, leave seagulls alone. They're neither friendly nor tasty and are known to harbor higher concentrations of the bacteria. Common sense and decent kitchen cleanliness should protect you from needless downfall. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/08/31/are-these-5-foods-trying-kill-you?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Are These 5 Foods Trying To Kill You?</a></strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartwebster/5829527553/" target="_hplink">StuartWebster</a></em>
Contrary to what literature might have you believe, there will be no love in the time of cholera, only misery, woe and lots of diarrhea. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Contaminated water and eating raw or undercooked seafood that was hanging out in that water. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Being slowly dried in a dehydrator that looks surprisingly like your bathroom while your abdomen is squeezed by a giant godlike fist. You might just want to set up shop in there for a spell, the toxin in the cholera bacteria causes any water in your body to "release." Replenish as you might, it likely won't stay in there very long. Keep at it diligently, though, and you'll be fine in about a week. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Splashed around in a stagnant portion of the Meekong Delta for so long, or eaten those Mexican oysters with quite as much gusto. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/philosophygeek/3964899327/" target="_hplink">philosophygeek</a></em>
E. Coli Enteritis
The black sheep of the food poisoning world, E. coli's the one with a strain that'll actually kill you regardless of treatment attempts. How subversive. <strong>The culprits</strong>: Escherichia coli, or E. for short, has one incredibly powerful strain: O157:H7, although other related strains can cause infection as well. This bacterium is found in mass-processed ground beef and on vegetables that were improperly cleaned or handled by contaminated fingers. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> You've been stabbed in the colon, which would explain the crippling cramps and other things that might happen if one were actually stabbed in the colon, including blood. Not that there's a "better" food poisoning to get, but this is one you really want to avoid. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Eaten that rare burger of questionable origin while chugging raw milk in that crazy crowded public pool, all of which have been known to harbor the bacteria. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/06/06/update-new-e-coli-culprit-europe?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Update: New E. Coli Culprit In Europe</a></strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/khawkins04/5969315133/" target="_hplink">khawkins04</a></em>
Ciguatera (Fish Poisoning)
An incurable disease caused by eating fish contaminated by coral algae toxins. A real doozy, with an estimated 50,000 cases each year. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Ciguatera is limited to fish of tropical origin. It's impossible to detect by seafood processors, and can't be killed by cooking or freezing. Live in fear of grouper, or continue on with your life with relatively minimal risk. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> At first, typical food poisoning symptoms may present, but the bigger problem with ciguatera is its severe and often irreversible neurological effects. These can include trouble sensing hot or cold, tingling "phantom limb" pain in the extremities and other symptoms that may be confused with anything from multiple sclerosis to heart failure. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have: </strong>Hit that fried "mystery tropical fish" eating contest at that Margaritaville in that tropical location with your buddies. To minimize your risk of catching this seriously unfun bug, make sure you know what your fish is and if possible, where it came from. Larger fish from shallower waters in a tropical environment are your worst bet. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/04/06/trouble-brewing-fda-and-sushi?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Trouble Brewing For The FDA. And, Sushi.</a> </strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/alonsoinostrosa/4055075930/" target="_hplink">alonso_inostrosa</a></em>
The range of listeria infection, or listeriosis, lands you somewhere between asymptomatic and dead and can occur from eating or drinking basically anything that was grown, raised or milked. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Raw or improperly pasteurized dairy products, vegetables grown in contaminated soil (yup, it can live in soil), preserved and smoked meats (can be identified by a slippery or slimy film), canned and raw seafood and fresh fruit. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> A bad flu, although more serious complications like meningitis can occur in people with weakened immune systems, as well as in young children, pregnant women and the elderly. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Eaten all those root vegetables straight from the ground without washing them right after milking your cow. I mean a hippie farmer's life is great, unless your land is rife with listeria. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/9229859@N02/2575380447/" target="_hplink">bucklava</a></em>
This is the picnic food poisoning everyone warns you about, especially you, dude who brought the mayo-choked potato salad (<a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/02/10/potato-salad-horseradish-recipe ?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">try this one instead</a>). <strong>The culprits:</strong> The bacteria releases its toxins at the comfy incubator that is room temperature food, which gives staph food poisoning its signature cookout-ruining reputation. The worst part? Reheating contaminated food won't kill it off. Actually the worst part is the symptoms. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Explosive, and not in a romantic feelings kind of way. Within an hour of ingesting contaminated food, both ends will be entirely occupied for up to a day. The good news is, once it's out, it's out and you can get right back to the picnic. Oh wait, it's over. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Microwaved that leftover potato salad thinking no bug could possibly survive the ordeal. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuart_spivack/274140418/" target="_hplink">stu_spivack</a></em>
The bacteria that causes salmonellosis, or salmonella poisoning, has a serious reputation among poultry and their handlers, and BOY does it love hanging out on the stretches of counter you missed with the sanitizer. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Although eggs, processed chicken parts and other raw meat are particularly good at spreading the bacteria, pet reptiles and rodents are also carriers. Wash everything any dead or live animal comes in contact with and maybe don't allow live animals in the kitchen while you're cooking, period. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Your small intestine betraying you entirely. Expect a week or so of your typical diarrhea, abdominal cramps and possibly a fever. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Attempted your own Japanese-style chicken breast sashimi or let Shelly the turtle roam around willy-nilly on the cutting board. Especially before slicing said chicken sashimi. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/vseehua/518875309/" target="_hplink">Casper Jen</a></em>
Similar to salmonella but yet so very different is shigella, which attacks the large intestine rather than the small. <strong>The culprit: </strong>You're going to love this -- human waste. While plenty of food-borne illness can be spread this way, particularly by catching a ride in food or water, many cases of shigellosis can be directly attributed to contact with... well, you know. It can also be resistant to antibiotics, so definitely practice safe sewage-wading. <strong>What it feels like: </strong>Salmonella, only with more blood. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Taken on that blackout drunken dare to see what's really under that manhole by the creek, then gone straight to In-N Out. Just maybe. We live in a developed nation, you almost have to try to get this one. It's Darwinism, people. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathanreading/6141237661/" target="_hplink">Nathan Reading</a></em>