Levels of food-borne pathogens at slaughter are declining on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program.

HACCP, USDA's science-based meat inspection system, requires plants to identify critical control points along production lines and ensure that practices at those points reduce bacterial contamination.

Because of its prevalence in 1996, salmonella was selected as the pathogen performance standard for HACCP; USDA sets strict limits allowed on meat and poultry. Salmonella is a potentially deadly bacteria that sickens about 1.3 million Americans and costs billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical costs each year.

In pre-HACCP baseline studies of 2,112 market hog carcasses completed in March '96, salmonella prevalence was 8.7% of hogs. By the fall of '98, salmonella prevalence in 300 large plants nationwide, operating under HACCP since January 1998, had dropped to 6.5%. Data for the second year indicated a drop to 2% and to 1.7% early this year.

Small plants were required to implement HACCP in January 1999. Data from the first 10 months of testing indicated a salmonella prevalence of 15%.

Ultimately, an on-farm HACCP program will be necessary for the success of the food-borne pathogen program, according to James Hodges, president of the American Meat Industry Foundation.