September 19, 2019

USDA Guidance For Responding to Customer Complaints Issued

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued a best practices guideline to help the meat and poultry industry respond to customer complaints about adulterated and misbranded products, in particular, reports of foreign materials in these products. This document is not regulatory.

USDA Guidance For Consumer Complaints

Since the beginning of 2019, there have been seven recalls of USDA-regulated food products for foreign material contamination. Those recalls have included ground beef chubs, breaded chicken products, chicken nuggets, frozen pork, and deli ham products. Corporations that have recalled these foods include Pilgrim’s Pride, Johnsonville, Tyson Foods, and Bellisio.

These recalls usually start because a consumer has found a material, such as glass, plastic, or wood, in a USDA-regulated product.

FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg said in a statement, “FSIS has placed renewed emphasis on industry responding to customer complaints of foreign materials in meat and poultry and, as required, reporting those incidents to the agency within 24 hours once the determination has been made that the product is adulterated.”

Meat and poultry products that are contaminated with foreign materials are adulterated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act, regardless of the type of foreign material.

All establishments must report to FSIS within 24 hours when they have shipped or received an adulterated product and that product is in commerce. That regulation was established in 2012. FSIS intensified efforts explaining to manufacturers that a product that contains foreign materials is adulterated even when a physical food safety hazard is not present. Adulterated products are not to be sold.

When a facility needs to recall a product that is adulterated, the establishment must identify the cause of the adulteration and take steps to prevent a recurrence in its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, that is reviewed by federal inspectors.

The establishment must first develop a mechanism to receive and process complaints. Once a complaint is received, the facility should have criteria and a mechanism to determine whether or not the complaint is valid. The company should look at where the product was produced, criteria to make sure the product was not tampered with, and substantiate the complaints. Then corrective action needs to be taken, with evaluation of the company’s HACCP system, and the complaint must be documented. Each complaint needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

FSIS is accepting comments on this new USDA guidance at regulations.gov. You can type comments directly into the comment field or attach a file for longer comments.

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