New US food safety meat measures

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Monday announced a new measure that will greatly improve the ability to trace cases of foodborne illness to their source.

paper.trailThe measure, which will require retailers to keep detailed records of the materials they use to make ground beef, was prompted in large part by events in Portland, Maine.

In 2011, a Salmonella outbreak resulted in several illnesses in Maine and parts of the Northeastern region of the U.S. The Food Safety and Inspection Service was able to trace the illnesses to Hannaford, a supermarket that, like many retailers, had used cuts of meat from various sources to make ground beef.

While the Food Safety and Inspection Service was able to trace the illnesses back to the supermarket that sold it, a lack of information about the source of the materials used to make the ground beef prevented us from going back further to the establishment that produced them. Doing so would have enabled us to ensure that the same unsafe meat was not being used by other retailers in the area.

This outbreak got the attention of Maine lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and then-U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, all of whom pushed for changes to the recordkeeping requirements.

The USDA FSIS version is below:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today is publishing revised guidelines to assist poultry processors in controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw food products and prevent cases of foodborne illness. This updated document is the fourth edition of the “FSIS Compliance Guideline for Controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in Raw Poultry” and is intended to offer poultry companies best practices for minimizing pathogen levels and meeting FSIS’ food safety requirements.

“These guidelines take into account the latest science and practical considerations, including lessons learned from foodborne illness outbreaks in the last several years, to assist establishments in producing safer food,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “This new guide is one piece of FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan and our effort to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributed to meat and poultry products by 25 percent in order to meet the nation’s Healthy People 2020 goals. By following the newer guidelines, poultry facilities can help us reach this important public health target.” 

The new guide makes science-based suggestions for interventions that poultry companies can take on the farm (known as pre-harvest), sanitary dressing procedures, further processing practices, antimicrobial interventions, and other management practices. These prevention and control measures represent the best practice recommendations of FSIS based on scientific and practical considerations. This guidance is particularly important in light of Salmonella outbreaks involving poultry products.

FSIS is seeking comment on the guidelines, which were last updated in 2010. A downloadable version of the compliance guidance is available at: www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/compliance-guides-index. The guidelines are also posted at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: www.regulations.gov where comments can be submitted.

While rates of foodborne illness overall have fallen over the course of this century, Salmonella rates have remained relatively stagnant, prompting FSIS to take an all-hands on deck approach to addressing the pathogen in meat and poultry products. The guidance, along with development of new performance standards for raw chicken breasts, legs and wings as well as for ground and other comminuted chicken and turkey products unveiled in January, are a major step in FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan. FSIS’ science-based risk assessment estimates that implementation of the new performance standards will lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually.

Over the past six years, USDA has collaborated extensively with other federal partners to safeguard America’s food supply, prevent foodborne illnesses and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. USDA’s FSIS is working to strengthen federal food safety efforts and develop strategies that emphasize a three-dimensional approach to prevent foodborne illness: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery.