Saturday, August 17, 2013
The power of computers
To screw up our lives when they fail is limitless. The latest example comes to us from the Agriculture Dept. meat inspection system.
A troubled new computer system for the nation’s 6,500 meatpacking and processing plants shut down for two days this month, putting at risk millions of pounds of beef, poultry, pork and lamb that had left the plants before workers could collect samples to check for E. coli bacteria and other contaminants.No harm, no foul. Go ahead eat that burger, if you dare.
Inspectors say that they were forced to use old paper forms to complete some of their work, but that in many cases it was too late. “Management sent out a memo saying to reschedule the sampling of meat,” said Stan Painter, a federal inspector in Crossville, Ala., who leads the inspectors’ union. “But in most cases that meat is now gone. We can’t inspect product that went out the door when the system was down.”
Agriculture Department officials, who acknowledge that the system failed nationwide on Aug. 8, played down the threat to public safety and insisted that the breakdown of the $20 million computer system had not compromised the nation’s meat supply. Neither the Agriculture Department nor the meat inspectors could point to any examples of contaminated beef or poultry getting into the hands of consumers.
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