17 August 2013

Glitch Affects Sampling for USDA Meat Inspections

Assuring food safety in the complex U.S. meat supply chain is the responsibility of the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service. Apparently the computer system it put into production in 2011 is not performing as designed, with a result that meat sampling schedules were not available to inspectors as planned. A New York Times report authored by Ron Nixon (@nixonron) offers few details about the causes of the glitch, though it indicates that the system is used by as many as 3,000 federal meat inspectors:
A report in March by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general found that glitches with the new computer system led to problems with meat sampling at 18 plants last year. At one of the plants, auditors found that inspectors had not properly sampled some 50 million pounds of ground beef for E. coli over a period of five months. At another plant, which the report identified as among the 10 largest slaughterhouses in the United States, auditors found that computer failures had caused inspectors to miss sampling another 50 million pounds of beef products.
Analysis The report does not identify the system contractor, though this contract award reported by WashingtonExec suggests to GlitchReporter it may be AssuranceNet, developed and maintained by Accenture. Was this a software failure as indicated, resulting in a data quality problem stemming from a failure to collect statistically valid samples? Importantly, what is the fail-over plan when there is a lapse of this kind?

Related Enhanced food safety is the basis for startups such as Presage Analytics.

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