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New ‘virtual’ inspection for meat plants proposed

Former Nebraska Chief Medical Officer and current USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond proposed a system of "virtual" meat inspections, with a focus on more frequent inspections at meat plants with poor safety records.

Currently, inspectors are assigned to a specific facility or to regularly patrol several smaller plants, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Raymond’s method involves an automated system, which generates a schedule of the inspectors’ weekly tasks — ensuring that a plant is clean, checking the temperature of its ovens and refrigerators and reviewing its anti-contamination measures.

If significant problems develop at a particular plant, additional inspections can be done. But on a day-to-day basis, the system aims to create a uniform level of inspection without regard to a facility’s history or the safety measures it uses.

Under the proposed risk-based system, plants would receive a risk rating based on the types of products they handle, safety measures they have in place and their track records.

Plants deemed to present a high risk would receive more intensive inspections while those with low risk would receive more cursory examinations.

The new system proposed by Dr. Raymond is controversial, and consumer groups like the Consumer Federation of America are encouraging the USDA to conduct a pilot study of the new inspection system before fully implementing it.

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