Food Safety Audits, Plant Characteristics, and Food Safety Technology Use in Meat and Poultry Plants
by Michael Ollinger
, Mary K. Muth, Shawn A. Karns, and Zanethia Choice
Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-82) 44 pp, October 2011
What Is the Issue?
Food contamination poses serious threats to human health as well
as to the economic viability of meat and poultry plants. Food
safety technology can increase a company's capacity to prevent a
foodborne contamination. A food safety audit-a quality control tool
in which an auditor observes whether a plant's processing practices
and technologies are compatible with good food safety practices-
can indicate how effectively food safety technology is being used.
Fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and other major customers of
meat and poultry processing plants conduct their own audits or hire
auditors to assess the soundness of a plant's processing operation.
Meat and poultry plants also can audit themselves as a way to help
maintain process control and as a marketing tool. In this report,
we document the extent of food safety audits in U.S. meat and
poultry processing plants and examine the association between the
use of audits and plant size, firm structure, and food safety
What Were the Study Findings?
• In the poultry slaughter, cattle slaughter, and ready-to-eat
products (e.g., luncheon meats) industries, at least 90 percent of
output is from audited plants.
• In the hog slaughter, ground beef, and not-ready-to-eat products
(e.g., meat cuts) industries, at least 70 percent of output is from
• More than one-half of all plants were audited in the poultry
slaughter industry. About one out of three cattle slaughter and hog
slaughter plants were audited.
• Plants with customer-hired or plant-hired auditors use
significantly higher levels of food safety technology than plants
without auditors. The most notable differences between plants using
auditors and those not using auditors were in the use of testing
and equipment technologies, and the smallest differences were
observed in sanitation practices. These results hold within plant
• The use of double audits may indicate firms with the strongest
incentives to maintain food safety. Double-audit plants-those using
both plant-hired and customer-hired auditors-use greater food
safety technology than plants using only one audit type (either
plant-hired or customer-hired). These results hold after
controlling for plant size.
• Larger plants and plants owned by multiplant firms are
associated with a significantly higher level of food safety
technology use across all industries that were examined.
How Was the Study Conducted?
Food safety technology use in six categories of meat and poultry
plants-cattle, hog, and poultry slaughter; ready-to-eat (e.g.,
luncheon meats); not-ready-to-eat (e.g., meat cuts); and ground
beef-is examined using a technology index developed by Ollinger,
Moore, and Chandran (2004) and using Tukey-Kramer comparison tests
and other statistical tools. Six technologies were examined: hide
removal (dehiding), sanitation, operations, equipment, testing, and
an overall measure. The data on the use of food safety technologies
are nationally representative and
include information on 600 slaughter plants and 700
processing-only meat and poultry plants collected by RTI
International for USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service in 2004 and
2005. They are the most recent data available.