Erin Nicholes of The Montana Standard reports that owners of a small, federally inspected meat plants told U.S. Department of Agriculture officials Thursday that they feel targeted by inspectors. Confusing government standards and a general lack of help in understanding the rules were also addressed.
Food Safety requires packers to create plans, supported with scientific documentation, for preventing hazards, such as contamination from harmful bacteria like listeria and E. coli. But finding documentation is difficult for small plants, as they lack staff scientists and quick access to data.
The accusations came after the agency’s Food Safety Inspection Service temporarily shut down Ranchland Packing Co. in August. The plant was shut down after inspectors found mouse droppings and could not reopen until carcasses were washed with a solution scientifically proven to kill rodent-borne contaminants.
Owner Gary Wold called a Food Safety technical help line but got nowhere. Only after pressure from Montana politicians did the USDA offer a response – a simple recipe of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
Officials acknowledged the technical line should have been more helpful. “If there are weaknesses in our system and we could’ve given information more rapidly, I’m here to tell you we’ll take responsibility,” said Bryce Quick, Food Safety’s deputy administrator.