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Evaluating the Inspection System

ensuring meat safety

The Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of 1993 prompted the imposition of a new regulatory system on the meat and poultry industry designed to help eliminate future deadly food-borne illness outbreaks. The new system, called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), shifted the responsibility for ensuring meat safety from USDA inspectors to the meat companies themselves and instituted microbial tests for harmful bacteria. Since the implementation of the HACCP regulations, however, controversy has erupted over whether the new rules place too much power in the hands of the meat industry to regulate itself and whether the microbial standards are appropriate or workable measures. FRONTLINE asked several leading experts to discuss the controversies surrounding the new system and the federal case that calls into question the USDA's use of salmonella testing to close down meat-processing plants.

What is HACCP?

In 1998, the government unveiled a radically redesigned system of meat inspection called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). The jury is still out on whether the HACCP system is working to reduce food-borne illness levels. Here's an overview of how the new system works, and some of the critiques.

Supreme Beef v. USDA

In December 2001, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that prohibited the U.S. Department of Agriculture from shutting down a Texas meat-processing plant because it had failed the agency's tests for salmonella levels three times. Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman calls the decision "a serious blow to food safety" because it takes away an important enforcement mechanism from USDA inspectors. Here's an overview of the case.

On the Line: A Meat Inspector's Story

Former USDA inspector Patsy McKee says she lost her job because she was too good at it. She claims that meat-processing plant owners who were unhappy with her thorough enforcement of food-safety regulations pressured the USDA into firing her. The agency and the plant owners say that she was dismissed for inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. Her story is one of the many from disgruntled inspectors who have come forward since the inception of the new regulatory system that gave meatpacking plants more responsibility to regulate themselves. Here's a Web-exclusive report on McKee's battle with the industry and the USDA. Plus, read her interview with FRONTLINE.

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