January 23, 2018

GAO Report Finds FSIS Small Plant Inspections Inconsistent

usdaart-tbA report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the USDA’s FSIS inspections of small plants are inconsistent. A small plant is defined as one that has 25 or fewer employees. FSIS completed most of the activities outlined in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill). The program mandated in that Act authorized a new meat and poultry inspection program to support interstate shipment of meat and poultry products from those smaller establishments.

FSIS issued program regulations in May 2011 for the new program, called the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (C)S program. As of January 31, 2013, three states – Ohio, North Dakota, and Wisconsin – and eight establishments in two of those states were participating in the program. But that division has not coordinated with other USDA agencies to provide outreach, education, and training. FSIS gave funds to four states to assess changes that would have to be made to inspection procedures to meet CIS requirements, but FSIS didn’t collect that information.

The federal coordinator for each state is supposed to visit CIS establishments with “appropriate frequency” and to submit a quarterly food safety compliance report on each establishment. Frequency is determined by factors such as complexity of operations, the schedule of operations, and the establishment’s performance under the program. These visits should be conducted at least once every 3 months.

But under the existing inspection programs, FSIS inspects establishments and issues a compliance report only about once every four years. No one was able to explain why FSIS has such different requirements for frequently of oversight visits and inspection reporting. The establishments use state inspectors to convey federal marks of inspection. Fiscal year 2013 agreements with states have a lesser standard than the CIS program.

GAO recommends that small establishments and states that are interested in the CIS program should obtain information and promote more consistency between CIS and existing inspection programs. The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the administrator of FSIS to ensure small establishments have the information they need, and require the technical assistance division to coordinate with other USDA agencies to provide outreach, education, and training to small establishments.

 

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