Administrative action light against large establishments during ‘COVID-19 Quarter’

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Only a handful of large meat and poultry establishments were subjected to administrative action by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service this past quarter when the industry came under pandemic pressures.

Food Safety News previously reported production during the April to June quarter kept fairly close to normal at 85.5 percent for livestock and 96.29 percent for poultry. Slaughter was disrupted during the quarter by numerous temporary plant shutdowns and production cutbacks as companies struggled with adjustments related to COVID-19.

The situation became serious enough that by April 28 that the White House empowered USDA, under the Defense Production Act, to keep meat and poultry plants operating while they managed their way through employee COVID-19 illnesses.

During the tumultuous quarter, USDA inspection personnel took administrative actions against only 17 large establishments. USDA was also charged during the quarter with implementing the guidance for meat and poultry plants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to minimize virus spread. That activity is not included in the report.

Here’s what it does say about large plant enforcement activities:

  • JBS and Smithfield Fresh Meat, which were among the temporary closures, led the large establishment administrative actions detailed in the FSIS quarterly enforcement report.
  • The JBS beef plant at Greeley, CO, got a warning letter on May 14 for sanitation violations the in December 2019. The JBS beef plant at Grand Island, NE, was cited for inhumane treatment at slaughter on June 27 this year.
  • A warning letter was sent by FSIS to the JBS pork facility at Ottumwa, IA, on May 11 for sanitation and HACCP violations in December 2019. At its Marshalltown, IA, pork facility, JBS got a deferral for an inhumane treatment at slaughter violation.
  • The Smithfield Fresh Meat Corp. plant in Milan, MO, was also subject to a May 28, 2020 warning letter for inhumane treatment at slaughter. And at Monmouth, IL, a May 8, 2020, warning letter for an inhumane treatment at slaughter incident also went to Smithfield.
  • Three other companies — FPL Foods LLC in Augusta, GA, Preferred Freezer of Elizabeth, NJ, and Sterling Foods of Union City, CA — were subjects of warning letters for violating regulatory control actions.

Other large establishments against which FSIS took administrative action include Agri Star Meat and Poultry LLC, Postville, IA, for inhumane slaughter; Allen Harim Foods, Harbeson, DE, for sanitation; Butterball LLC, Carthage, MO, for sanitation, HACCP; Indiana Packers, Delphi, IN, for inhumane slaughter; Jennie O Turkey, Faribault, MN, for  sanitation, HACCP; Pitman Farms, Moroni, UT, for sanitation, HACCP; Washington Beef, LLC, Toppenish, WA, sanitation, HACCP; and Whole Stone Farms, Fremont, NE, for inhumane slaughter,

The report for the government’s third quarter, covering the period from April 1 to June 30, shows FSIS inspection personnel inspected 35.67 million livestock carcasses, down from 42.90 million in the second quarter of the fiscal year. Because of interruptions in production, meat industry experts say animals slaughtered later in the quarter were fatter than normal.  That means the gap between this quarter and the previous is likely even narrower.

Meat and poultry shortages were forecast at the time the White House opted to use the Defense Production Act for the industry. While shortages were largely avoided, consumers started the grilling season paying about 10 percent more than a year earlier for beef products.

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