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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

KAAL-TV: USDA Whistleblowers Raise Concerns Over Pork Plant Inspections

February 9, 2015

KAAL-TV, the ABC affiliate in Austin, Minnesota (where Hormel is headquartered) covered this television news story about USDA whistleblowers at Hormel pork plants raising concerns about high-speed hog inspection. The print version of the story is below.


By DAN CONRADT

A USDA pilot project is drawing criticism, and that criticism is being felt close to home.

They’re concerns being raised in affidavits from four current and former USDA inspectors, who say the processing lines at some US pork plants are running too fast to be safe.

The USDA implemented a pilot project at five pork processing plants around the country; three of them are operated or contracted by Austin-based Hormel foods. The pilot project would speed up the production lines, and give the plants themselves more oversight into the inspection process. Government inspectors would then verify the inspections.

But in affidavits filed with a whistle-blower group called the Government Accountability Project, the four inspectors say the lines are going too fast for inspectors to keep up, and food safety might be compromised as a result, including what they claim are practices that could increase the risk of salmonella poisoning.

One of the affidavits came from a man identified as a recently-retired long-time inspector at Quality Pork Processors in Austin.

In November, the USDA issued a report on the pilot project, saying the plants in the new program are performing as well as those not in it.

The Government Accountability Project is reportedly starting a petition drive to get Hormel to slow it’s production lines in the interest of safer inspections.

Late Monday afternoon, Hormel issued the following statement in response to the GAP report and the inspectors’ affidavits:

“First off, please know that food safety is our top priority, and we have been a leader in the production of safe, quality food for more than 100 years. Hormel Foods stands behind its products.

One of our facilities and one subsidiary location are participating in the HIMP pilot program, as well as a third-party contractor.

In addition to the USDA inspectors at the facility, there are Hormel Foods employees trained to the standards of the USDA conducting the additional inspections. We’ve found this allows the USDA inspectors better perspective and more flexibility to monitor activity and identify any issues.

Employees have the ability to stop a line if an issue is detected.

From our experience, we’ve found:

  • Oversight is more efficient and more effective in plants participating in the HIMP program. 
  • The USDA and our company are partners in ensuring the safety of our consumers and employees, and we take that responsibility very seriously. 
  • The HIMP program places more accountability on the company, and we  welcome that responsibility. The safety of our consumers and employees is paramount in everything we do.

The important thing to remember is USDA protocols require periodic sampling for microorganisms of concern. This is truly the measure of an establishment’s performance.

Our facilities consistently meet or perform better than published USDA microbiological performance standards.”

The USDA issued a written statement saying “while data shows that the food safety outcomes in these facilities are on par with other plants, we would need to collect and analyze additional data before expanding the program.

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