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Knoxville — A federal judge struck down a salmonella detection program from the United States Department of Agriculture, saying its evaluation of cleanliness at meat processing plants is flawed.

U.S. District Judge Joe Fish ruled that the USDA exceeded its authority when it effectively shut down a Texas plant owned by Supreme Beef, Inc.

And a food safety specialist with the University of Tennessee said the meat processing industry needs better laws, not more laws.

“We’ve got to have standards, but maybe we’ve put as much pressure as we can on the processing industry,” said Dr. Curtis Melton.

“These plants are super clean, but as long as we get meat from animals that live their lives in the barnyard, we’re going to have some of that bacteria get on the meat,” Melton said.

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman warned that a rollback of meat inspection standards could turn back the clock on the Clinton Administration’s efforts to improve food safety.

But Melton said meat processing plants have a high level of cleanliness.

“These products are so much safer that it’s very rare that you find spoiled beef or chicken in the store,” Melton said. “We’ve really cleaned up things.”

Approximately 550 people are killed by salmonella poisoning each year in the United States.