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Meat plants said to face shortages of inspectors

WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department is suffering from a shortage of inspectors at some meat and poultry plants, a top inspectors’ union official and a food safety group said this week, raising the possibility that contaminated products could reach consumers.

The warning comes just over a week after the agency issued a recall for nearly 9 million pounds of beef processed at Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma, Calif. The department said the meat was shipped to distribution centers and retail establishments nationwide, even though it lacked a full federal inspection.

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The meat was sent to about 1,000 retailers in Alabama, California, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.

The inspectors union official, Stan Painter, president of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals and a meat inspector in Crossville, Ala., said that the lack of inspectors most likely played a role in the recall, because workers are stretched thin and do not have the time to properly examine meat.

“In many places, managers and veterinarians are being asked to help with inspections,” Painter said.

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