The New York Times recently published a piece, "Shipping Continued After Computer Inspection System Failed at Meat Plants,"(Aug. 17, 2013) which paints a misleading picture of the actions taken by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to keep America's food supply safe amid a recent computer system failure. The FSIS's Public Health Information System (PHIS), which assigns and tracks food safety inspections, shut down unexpectedly for two days on Aug. 8 and 9. The Times' article made it seem as though inspections for the nation's meat, poultry, and egg products did not occur on those days, putting America's food supply in jeopardy, but this is simply not true. FSIS continued to employ the highest standards of food safety checks throughout the computer system shutdown to ensure that America's food supply was never put at risk.
"FSIS's number one priority is to ensure food safety and protect the health of the public, and if there is ever the slightest doubt that food safety inspections have been compromised, then FSIS would not allow product to be produced or enter commerce," said Dr. Douglas Fulnechek, veterinarian and president of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians. "Although PHIS is a valuable tool that allows FSIS veterinarians to take a more proactive approach to public health protection, Americans can rest assured knowing that food safety inspections can still be performed capably by-and under the supervision of-highly skilled federal veterinarians even during times when the system is inoperable. We have some of the best and brightest veterinarians working tirelessly every day to perform and supervise food safety inspections and I think the recent event shows just how important their jobs are to ensure that our nation has access to a safe food supply."
Despite the computer system's shutdown in late August, FSIS's federal veterinarians continued to ensure inspections were performed in every slaughter plant in the country. This meant that inspectors continued to inspect every cow, pig, chicken, turkey, or other species presented for slaughter, and that inspections continued at every processing facility.
FSIS employs approximately 1,000 highly skilled veterinarians who supervise ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections of food animal products. These veterinarians are experts in everything from food microbiology to understanding the risks of drug residues from entering the food supply to detecting foreign animal diseases to preventing foodborne hazards at processing facilities. They use their scientific expertise to detect animal health diseases and conditions and ensure that the industry is preventing public health hazards, thereby decreasing the risks of foodborne illnesses.
In addition, FSIS's highly trained veterinary supervisors teach their inspection teams the latest in food safety, information and procedures, and employ the best expertise in food safety systems evaluation. These supervisors ensure that their teams are preventing diseases and hazards that could adversely affect human health.
"Despite the temporary shutdown of PHIS, FSIS's highly trained veterinarians continued to ensure that the nation's supply of meat, poultry and egg products were inspected, and only those that met all federal food safety requirements received the marks of inspection and were passedfor consumption," stated Dr. William James, retired chief public health veterinarian of FSIS.
For more information about the NAFV, please visit nafv.org.