Imagine biting into a piece of chicken nugget and getting a shard of wood caught in your teeth, similar to what three people reported according to this recall notice for Perdue chicken. The very next day, another recall was issued for Johnsonville pork products where rubber bits were reportedly found by multiple consumers.
And now, as we update this piece one week after it was first published, Tyson Foods has joined the recall list after rubber pieces were found in their chicken nuggets as well.
What on earth is going on?
According to documents Food & Water Watch received via a Freedom of Information Act request, it may be that the inspection meat is supposed to undergo isn’t really happening — even when the federal government is fully operational.
There are many meat inspection tasks that aren’t getting performed
Here’s a little bit about what’s supposed to happen, straight from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.
But the documents we received outline how many times USDA inspectors were unable to perform their usual tasks — the charts are broken down by both regional offices for the USDA, and by the brands of meat that didn’t get all the inspection tasks performed.
For the same Perdue plant where the recalled chicken nuggets were produced, the records show that inspection duties were often not completed in 2018 because of understaffing:
Administrative duties (listed 2 times)
Assigned other duties (listed 81 times)
Double covered assignments (listed 11 times)
Higher priority task took precedent (listed 2 times)
Not enough time to complete the task (listed 7 times)
Short staffing (listed 2 times)
Triple covered assignments (listed 4 times)
Working the slaughter line (listed 5 times)
And for the Johnsonville LLC plant where the pork patties were produced, data shows these reasons that USDA inspectors were unable to complete expected duties:
Double covered assignments (listed 16 times)
Higher priority task took precedent (listed 15 times)
Not enough time to complete the task (listed 24 times)
Short staffing (listed 11 times)
Too many plants to physically go to each plant (listed 2 times)
Triple covered assignments (listed 3 times)
TAKE A LOOK:
Shouldn’t “Inspected” labels mean the meat was actually… inspected?
Somehow, “Inspected and Passed” labels and stamps are still being slapped on the meat packages in spite of how many of these tasks aren’t being performed. An obvious question becomes… what weight do these labels carry if, sometimes, the products were not fully inspected?
Americans rely on agencies like the USDA to keep us safe, and to ensure a benchmark of trust in the foods corporations are allowed to sell us. It should be unacceptable for that responsibility to be skirted, ever.
“Food inspections are suffering under the government shutdown. But even before the shutdown, we’ve found that facilities had significant staffing problems and incomplete inspections that may have directly led to contaminated meat being released into the food supply.” —Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.
People need to know this is happening
“There needs to be an investigation into the management of the inspection staffing at FSIS,” said Tony Corbo, Senior Lobbyist for the food program at Food & Water Watch. “When FSIS inspectors cannot fully complete their inspection tasks, it means that critical checks are delayed or missed, such as taking samples for pathogen testing or thoroughly evaluating production processes.
“‘Drive-by’ inspections are not enough to ensure the safety of products put into commerce,” continued Corbo. “That these plants were permitted to use the USDA inspection legend ‘inspected and passed’ on their product packaging when there was inadequate inspection is tantamount to fraud.”
It’s utterly unfathomable that at a time when the government is somehow finding ways to rubberstamp oil drilling on public lands, that food is ending up on our plates without inspection processes being honored. The first step to gaining the power to change this is informing our friends, families, and neighbors that the USDA’s practices are missing the mark. Help us spread the word!