GAO: Better Collaboration Among Agencies Needed to Protect Poultry Workers from Chemical Exposures

Published December 13, 2017

Inspectors from a federal food safety agency lack an effective mechanism for alerting OSHA to possible exposure concerns related to chemical use in the meat and poultry industry, according to a new report released by the United States Government Accountability Office. The report calls for better outreach and collaboration among OSHA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

FSIS inspectors, who ensure that the carcasses of animals slaughtered at meat and poultry plants are safe for human consumption, have identified peracetic acid and other antimicrobials as chemical exposures of concern for meat and poultry workers. Peracetic acid is applied to meat and poultry to reduce the incidence of human illness from food-borne pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter. As part of its review process for antimicrobial chemicals, FSIS obtains information about the chemicals from manufacturers that could be relevant to the health and safety of both FSIS inspectors and meat and poultry workers, including information not available in the chemicals’ safety data sheets, according to GAO. But this information is not shared with OSHA or NIOSH “because FSIS does not have a process for doing so,” the report reads. GAO calls on FSIS to establish a process for sharing this information with federal health and safety agencies.

The GAO report addresses additional concerns that affect the working relationship between OSHA and FSIS, including the agencies’ failure to fully implement a 1994 memorandum of understanding that outlines their respective roles and responsibilities for protecting workers in the meat and poultry industry. The full report is available as a PDF on the GAO website. To read more about the health and safety concerns of peracetic acid, see the article “Versatile and Vexing” in the December 2016 Synergist.