The Sanderson Farms plant in Summit slaughters, cuts and packages chicken for sale at restaurants and grocery stores. / Special to The Clarion-Ledger
BY THE NUMBERS
Chickens slaughtered in Mississippi between May 16 and July 1
Hogs slaughtered in Mississippi between May 16 and July 1
reported by USDA inspectors at Mississippi slaughterhouses between May 16 and July 1
Mississippi slaughterhouses cited in the May 16-July 1 report
NONCOMPLIANCE RECORDS BY SLAUGHTERHOUSE
Nineteen Mississippi meat and poultry processing facilities racked up roughly 470 noncompliance records between May 16 and June 1:
Boe Farms, Moselle — 2
Bryant’s Meat Inc., Taylorsville — 1
Hot Tamale Heaven, Greenville — 2
Kased Brothers’ Halal Meats, Summit — 1
Koch Foods of Mississippi, Morton — 33
Marshall Durbin Company, Hattiesburg — 105
Peco Foods total — 46
(Bay Springs 17, Sebastopol 14, Canton 14, Brooksville 1)
Sanderson Farms total — 117
(Collins 30, Hazlehurst 10, Laurel 26, Summit 51)
Southern Hens Inc., Moselle — 44
Tyson Foods total — 83
(Carthage 55, Forest 28)
Water Valley Poultry, Water Valley — 4
Wayne Farms LLC, Laurel — 30
Source: USDA Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service
WHAT’S A NONCOMPLIANCE RECORD?
When a USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service staff member discovers a facility not complying with a federal regulation, a noncompliance record is issued.
The record documents the regulation that was violated, when and how it occurred, and recommends immediate action. It is then given to the violating facility.
“Noncompliance reported on NRs varies from non-food safety issues to serious breakdowns in food safety controls,” according to the FSIS website.
“When noncompliance occurs repeatedly, or when an establishment fails to prevent adulterated product from being produced or shipped, FSIS takes action to control products and may take enforcement action under the FSIS Rules of Practice (9 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 500), such as suspending inspection.”
Some meat processed for consumption in Mississippi has been kicked, contaminated, smeared with feces, left under dripping pipes and stored in insect-infested rooms, according to federal inspection records obtained by The Clarion-Ledger.
Nineteen of the state’s 22 slaughterhouses racked up a combined 470 noncompliance records between May 16 and July 1, as detailed by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, which places personnel in all federally approved meat processing plants.
A noncompliance record is issued any time a plant fails to meet federal regulations on any one of a host of issues ranging from building maintenance to food safety controls.
The Clarion-Ledger requested the records in July after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video showing abuse at a Pontotoc slaughterhouse. That slaughterhouse, Southern Quality Meats, did not appear in the report provided by FSIS.
The records — 300 pages of detailed inspection notes — are a fraction of the 10 years’ worth the newspaper requested and is still awaiting. FSIS provides the data in batches.
Nearly one-third of the records received detail the discovery of feces on randomly selected poultry carcasses before they enter the chiller, which is the last step before being cut up and packaged for consumption.
Feces carry salmonella, listeria and E. coli, which if not eliminated before coming into contact with humans can cause diarrhea, cramps and vomiting.
A 2012 study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found about half of the raw poultry sold at grocery stores contains feces.
Other frequent citations included the presence of flies, maggots or roaches in the facilities or unidentified materials appearing on the carcasses or the surfaces they touch. Condensation also is repeatedly cited.
Industry advocates say the number of deficiencies is minuscule compared to the millions of animals processed at these facilities during that time. They also call it evidence of the inspection system working as designed.
“The fact they’re catching fecal material before it enters the chiller is exactly why they’re there, so that this product does not continue through the process,” said Tom Super, vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council. “This is an example of inspectors doing their job.”
One former USDA inspector disagrees, though, saying these violations shouldn’t happen at all and that inspectors frequently fail to report everything they see.
“FSIS says fecal contamination is zero tolerance, so there shouldn’t be any,” said Lester Friedlander, former chief inspector for the USDA FSIS. “I feel like it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I think there is more noncompliance going on than is really reported.”
Friedlander, a vocal critic of his former agency, cited as evidence this month’s recall of 8.7 million pounds of meat from a California company because FSIS hadn’t fully inspected it.
At least two Mississippi firms have had recalls in the past two years, according to the USDA website. One was in 2013 for mislabeling; the other in 2012 for possible listeria contamination.
Neither was a slaughterhouse.
Noncompliance reporting could further decline if a sweeping change proposed by FSIS becomes standard practice. A pilot project allowing companies to largely police themselves would save the federal agency money but has been roundly criticized as ineffective.
The Government Accountability Office found fault with the program in an August report that said FSIS has failed to properly evaluate it.
Two Mississippi plants participate in that pilot project: Tyson Foods in Carthage and Marshall Durbin in Hattiesburg.
Some 8,200 FSIS personnel currently inspect more than 8.8 billion poultry and 145 million livestock carcasses nationwide, according to data from the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Mississippi facilities slaughtered an estimated 87,916,500 chickens and 13,550 hogs during the six-week period covered in the report, the same data show.
Other animals, such as cattle and sheep, also were slaughtered but in far fewer numbers.
Based on those figures, one noncompliance record was issued for every 187,085 slaughters in Mississippi. Or about 0.0005 percent of the time.
The average number of citations per plant was 25, but one facility had quadruple that rate. The Hattiesburg poultry facility owned by Birmingham-based Marshall Durbin Co. had 105 incidents.
Twenty of them involved feces on the poultry. Thirteen were for dirty product contact surfaces. Twelve were for insects. Nine were for unidentified materials on the product.
In one instance, an inspector saw an employee “kicking product around with his boot several times like a ball on the unclean wet floor.”
Product is the term inspectors use for the meat or poultry being processed.
In another, several employees contaminated four uncovered cases of boneless chicken fillets with overspray from high-pressure hoses they used to wash the dirty floor.
In yet another, an employee plucked a cardboard box from the dirty, wet floor and held it over three tubs of chicken, allowing contaminated water to drip onto the product.
A woman who answered the phone at Marshall Durbin headquarters on Friday would not answer questions and would not transfer a reporter to anyone who could.
Marshall Durbin was bought Jan. 24 by Gainesville, Ga.-based Mar-Jac Poultry. Mar-Jac representative Flo Becker said she doesn’t have much information yet about the Hattiesburg plant but said most facilities are “exceptionally clean.”
“There have been so many advancements, even in the last 10 years,” Becker said. “It’s night and day between now and the first time I stepped into a processing facility.”
Becker said the Hattiesburg slaughterhouse kills about 200,000 chickens per day.
Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest poultry processor with a fifth of the U.S. market, has three plants in Mississippi.
The company had 83 violations between its Carthage and Forest facilities and none at its Vicksburg plant. Thirty-two of them involved feces on the product.
One of them, at the Forest plant, involved human feces smeared on the floor and the seat of a ladies’ bathroom commode.
“I took immediate official action by applying U.S. Rejected Tag #5 31434569 to the ladies bathroom,” the inspector wrote in the report. “After adequate corrective action was conducted by the establishment, I inspected and released regulatory control at 0811 hours.”
To contact Emily Le Coz, call (601) 961-7249 or follow @emily_lecoz on Twitter.