US proposes mandatory test-and-hold for meat

The Obama administration will, according to the Wall Street Journal, unveil a proposal Tuesday to force companies to delay sending beef, pork and poultry to grocery stores while government inspectors complete tests.

The USDA, in a statement slated to be released Tuesday, said it "inspects billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually" and it believes that "44 of the most serious recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented" if the proposed "test and hold" rule it is unveiling Tuesday had been in place.

"We believe this will result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables," said Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.

Many large meat packers including Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. already hold back product while Agriculture Department inspectors perform tests for dangerous bacteria.

"While we don’t typically favor more government regulation, we believe it makes sense in this case to mandate ‘test and hold’ for the whole industry," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods.

The tests usually take between 24 to 48 hours to conduct, but many companies won’t wait, sometimes resulting in recalls and serious illnesses.

"For Cargill, test and hold is a verification of our food safety interventions and processes," said Angie Siemens, vice president of technical services for Cargill Meat Solutions in Wichita, Kan.

The American Meat Institute, which represents most of the packing and processing industry in the U.S., said it strongly supports it.