WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- If you're eating, you might want to push your meal aside for a minute.
A former USDA poultry inspector is warning a new inspection plan the Agriculture Department wants to roll out nationwide could leave you eating some of the most gross stuff you can imagine, including pus, scabs and feces.
Phyllis McKelvey says all of that could end up in the chicken you're cooking for your family if the USDA goes ahead with it's plan.
The USDA insists it's just trying to refocus inspectors on the contaminants that can really make you sick.
McKelvey staged in front of the Agriculture Department with petitions signed at Change.org by 177,000 people worried about changes in the inspection system. "You can't inspect a chicken at one-third of a second. It's impossible."
McKelvey's a grandmother and retired poultry inspector, and she spent decades trying to keep our food safe. She was one of the first inspectors in the so-called HIMP pilot inspection program.
"If they enter the chill tank with feces and bile and scabs and pus and sores, they just roll around in this tank for an hour."
HIMP turns over much of the work of visually checking chickens to plant employees. The Ag Department inspectors can then focus on spotting dangerous microbes like salmonella and campylobacter.
Over three years, the department says it could save 90 million dollars by cutting 800 inspector positions.
"Congress passed a law: carcass by carcass inspection," responds McKelvey. "Let's go back to the law."
But Tom Super of the National Chicken council says, "What you're talking about, these blemishes, these are quality issues, they're not food safety issues. "
The chicken processing association says HIMP has had a remarkable record since the pilot program rolled out in 1998.
"It has been in place in 20 chicken plants for 13 years, and these plants have as good or better of a record," says Super.
McKelvey says HIMP speeds up the line, and puts inspectors at the very end of it, where its too late to catch problems. A number of other current inspectors agree.
And the boxes of petitions she delivered show a lot of Americans feel the same way. "I'm praying it's going to work and I feel the Lord is going to follow through and its going to work and we're going to save lives in this country," says McKelvey.
The National Chicken Council says that visual inspection is just one of a dozen checks to keep out disease. And the head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service says this is modernization based on the latest science -- and designed to protect public health.
Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
9News Now & wusa9.com