Meat Inspectors Work Hard At “Singing From The Same Song Sheet” By George Charbonneau from South West Ontario Veterinary Services

Meat inspection is a very important part of food safety and quality assurance for pork. Consumers rely on meat inspection to assure that the meat that they eating is safe and wholesome. Livestock producers rely on inspection information as an indicator of animal health. Erysipelas lesions, round worm affected livers, pleuritis, abscesses, and  arthritic lesions among others can give producers a sense of pig health. Meat Safety Regulators generate lots of information about how meat inspection is to be carried out and what to look for. You would not want to drop a meat inspection standard operating procedures manual on your foot as they are big enough that it will definitely hurt. Most of the inspection process relies on visual observation and assessment by trained inspectors. This involves ante-mortem inspections of live animals as well as inspection of specific tissues. All of this process then relies on the sound judgement of the inspector based on training and experience. From time to time the assessment process of an individual inspector or plant can begin to meander “off course”. Sometimes an inspector may start to interpret mosquito bites as Erysipelas lesions. Synger blackened skin spots can be interpreted to be “skin parasites” and excessive trimming will occur. If producers keep an eye on their trim and carcass condemnation demerit reports they will notice when changes in frequency occur. A follow up with plant procurement staff and inspection staff will usually get things back on track. To be fair to the inspectors, however, it is important to recognize that some noticeable condemnation changes may prove to be absolutely correct. For example, a producer may not be able to see internal abscess on the live animal but it is abundantly clear at the plant that there are increased abscesses.

These European researchers wanted to describe the degree of variation on total condemnation (TC) criteria applied during post-mortem inspection (PMI) of finishing pigs. They used an online survey to collect this information from several European countries. The focus in this study was on total carcass condemnation criteria with respect to post mortem findings of abscesses, arthritis, cachexia, erysipelas, icterus, Mycobacterium-like lesions (maybe tuberculosis) , osteomyelitis, peritonitis, pleuritis and pneumonia. From September to November 2020, a total of 44 completed questionnaires were obtained from 26 European countries.

The researchers found the following:

  • The results showed a substantial variation in the total condemnation criteria in place in the participating countries.
  • There was some variability seen in the respondents’ reported answers relating to the 10 criteria reviewed in this study.

Take Home Messages:

  • Food safety inspectors work very hard to harmonize their evaluation criteria so that they are in agreement as much as possible between inspectors and between plants.
  • Every so often the judgement of an individual inspector can inadvertently “stray off course” and this may lead to an increase or decrease in condemnations from the norm.
  • Maintaining harmony requires constant effort and definitely relies on everyone in the system to supply feedback when things appear to be changing.

Reference: Madalena Vieira-Pinto , Nina Langkabel , Susana Santos , Lis Alban , Jaime Gómez Laguna , Bojan Blagojevic , Diana Meemken , Silvia Bonardi , Boris Antunović , Sergio Ghidini , Patric Maurer , Ole Alvseike , Riikka Laukkanen-Ninios   A European survey on post-mortem inspection of finishing pigs: Total condemnation criteria to declare meat unfit for human consumption  Res Vet Sci . 2022 Dec 20;152:72-82. doi: 10.1016/j.rvsc.2022.07.013. Epub 2022 Jul 21.