As mouth-watering as the prospects of Thanksgiving Day in 2013 might be, the likelihood that salmonella also will be on the table will increase substantially if a poultry rule proposed by a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture goes into effect. The rule, proposed by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, would drastically alter the way that poultry is inspected and processed.
If this rule is allowed to go into effect, salmonella may become more prevalent in your grocer’s freezer and on your dinner table, and, equally concerning, poultry processing plant workers will be subjected to increasingly adverse conditions. USDA inspectors would be removed from processing plants, and inspections would be handed over to the industry itself.
The rule also would increase the speed of the processing line from 32 turkeys per minute to 55 turkeys per minute. In other words, inspectors will be given barely one second to inspect each turkey before it starts its journey to your plate. The chicken processing line, meanwhile, will be sped up to 175 chickens per minute, or one third of a second per chicken.
I call fowl!
Increasing line speeds is nothing short of reckless, and, if implemented, would jeopardize both public health and worker safety. A recent study from Wake Forest University, found that 59 percent of poultry processing workers have carpel tunnel syndrome. Carpel tunnel and other repetitive motion injuries are the result of repetitious work, such as checking poultry. If line speeds are increased to 55 turkeys per minute, this will likely also increase the percentage of workers with carpel tunnel and other repetitive motion injuries.
On the food safety front, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonella are reported in the United States every year. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be up to 29 times greater.
The proposed rule will bring a variety of issues both to your Thanksgiving plate and to the workplace. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service should withdraw its current proposal and rethink the consequences for workers and consumers.
Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen’s workplace safety expert. Follow him @SafeWorkers