Computer system failure puts US meat safety at risk

Aug. 21, 2013

A malfunction in the computer system used by thousands of Agriculture Department inspectors at the 6,500 meatpacking and processing plants across the United States caused a two-day outage.

A malfunction in the computer system used by thousands of Agriculture Department inspectors at the 6,500 meatpacking and processing plants across the United States caused a two-day outage, potentially increasing the risk of millions of pounds of pork, beef and poultry being contaminated with E.coli and other bacteria, the New York Times reported.

Quoting inspectors at meat processing plants, the newspaper said that they had to rely on paper forms to carry out some of their duties and in some cases it was too late to check the meat, as it had already left the facilities. Stan Painter, a federal inspector in Alabama and leader of the inspectors' union, told the paper that inspectors could not check meat that had left plants while the system was down.

So far no announcements about contaminated meat on the U.S. market have been made, following the system failure earlier this month. Officials from the Agriculture Department stated that there was no risk to public health.

RELATED: Increase in line speed at poultry plants could cause more injuries, contamination

The new computer system was introduced in 2011 and is used by approximately 3,000 inspectors in slaughterhouses and processing facilities. It allows inspectors to take samples from plants and send them electronically for lab analysis. Thanks to the new system the results are received faster than before, the department explained.

The glitch in the system was the latest of a series of failings since its launch. Inspectors want to do their work properly but the tools they are given by the Agriculture Department keep interfering with this, Painter said.

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