THE OFFICIAL RULES

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington is responsible for monitoring the production of meat and poultry within the United States. Under its direction, all slaughter and processing plants, regardless of size, are required to adhere to an FSIS-enforced system of process controls to prevent food-safety hazards -- known as Hazard Analysis and Critical

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington is responsible for monitoring the production of meat and poultry within the United States. Under its direction, all slaughter and processing plants, regardless of size, are required to adhere to an FSIS-enforced system of process controls to prevent food-safety hazards -- known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP. HACCP, coupled with routine pathogen reduction and microbial testing, is the most advanced preventative measure currently observed by the industry. According to Andrea McNally, spokeswoman for FSIS, complete compliance with HACCP and subsequent FSIS regulations is mandatory.

t be measured. The standard was recently the subject of a controversial court case involving Supreme Beef Processors in Dallas.

After a court decision in December 2001, on the use of performance standards, USDA said it would continue to test for salmonella in plants and shut down those plants that do not meet food-safety requirements.

However, the decision restricted the agency's abilities to close plants for noncompliance. As a result, the USDA is conducting a "comprehensive review" of current food-safety regulations to determine science-based changes that may be necessary to strengthen its authority.

In addition, slaughter plants are also required to conduct microbial testing for generic E. coli to verify that their process-control systems are working as intended to prevent fecal contamination, the primary avenue for harmful bacteria. FSIS is also requiring plants to adopt and follow written Standard Operating Procedures for sanitation to reduce the likelihood that harmful bacteria will contaminate the finished product prior to distribution.