Teaching Tip: Teaching Quality Inspection Using Chickens
In Chapter 6, our favorite line when discussing inspection is: “Quality cannot be inspected into a product.” What better way to discuss this important topic with your students than the controversial move by the USDA last week to streamline chicken inspection by cutting by 75% the number of government inspectors who eye chicken carcasses for defects. The Los Angeles Times (June 6, 2012) reports that the USDA move to let chicken slaughterhouses run production lines 25% faster is angering food safety advocates and poultry plant workers.
The USDA says it can eliminate 800 inspector positions and save the federal government $30 million a year. Consumer advocates said the rising rates of salmonella infection in recent years should give pause to any plans to cut the number of inspectors. But in testing its relaxed rules at 25 poultry slaughterhouses, the USDA found little difference with conventional plants in the instances of salmonella and other diseases. “The test plants performed exceptionally well”, the department said. (In other words, more inspection did not equal more quality.)
Under existing rules, the production line can move as fast as 140 birds a minute. Four federal inspectors positioned along the line inspect carcasses and remove those that have visual defects. No single inspector inspects more than 35 birds a minute. The relaxed rules allow lines to speed to 175 birds per minute while relying on plant employees to spot defective carcasses and pull them from the line. They then move past a single line inspector.
The CDC estimates that there are 1.2 million incidents of salmonella illness each year–and growing. When Consumer Reports tested 382 broiler chickens bought from grocery stores, 14% were found to contain salmonella. The union that represents poultry workers said the new rules would mean “more danger on the job.” The industry’s worker injury rate already is about a third higher than the average for all manufacturing industries. They often are prone to back problems, and 59% of line workers already have carpal tunnel syndrome — at line speeds of 70 to 91 birds a minute.
This story can make for a good Ethical Dilemma exercise as well.