October 31, 2014

More Safeguards Announced by USDA

Sirloin SteakOn Wednesday, the USDA announced more changes to policy to help protect consumers against foodborne illness caused by contaminated meat and poultry products.

The policy change that got the most attention was initiating traceback on potentially contaminated products when a presumptive positive test occurs, rather than waiting for confirmation. At the press conference held on May 2, 2012, reporters were most interested in the change in traceback policy; in fact, all of the questions were directed toward that announcement.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is also going to implement three rules in the 2008 Farm Bill (the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008). These are final rules, not policy changes or guidance documents.

  • Requiring food establishments to prepare and maintain written recall procedures, so if a recall is needed, the process can be implemented quickly.
  • Requiring food establishments to notify FSIS with 24 hours of finding that contaminated food has entered into commerce.
  • Requiring food establishments to document every reassessment of their food safety plants, called hazard control and critical control point systems (HACCP). HAACP documentation has always been required, but the FSIS has now provided documentation so support is consistent and relevant.

In addition, FSIS is publishing guidance documents for food establishments to help them document that the HACCP systems work as designed. For a system to be validated, scientific or technical support must be included for the decisions made when designing the HACCP system, and there must be evidence derived from the plan’s execution that it does achieve the parameters documented.

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety, said in the press conference that “comments and public meetings helped us developed these new, revised guidance documents. The latest draft guidances are more useful documents.”

She added, “these additional rules will bolster prevention-based public health safeguards. Our main goal is to keep consumers safe. We want the process to be more proactive so we can be ahead of the game. There’s always a place for reaction. Outbreaks will occur, but the further ahead we can get, the more we can focus on preventing harm in the first place.”

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