Government warns plants not to alter practices during listeria testing

Anyone can clean up for a day. I’m proof.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is warning meat and poultry processing plants to cut it out: how else will the government-types know what goes on – listeria-wise — the rest of the year, or every four years?

"By altering routine practices, establishments may make changes that are not consistent with their documented food-safety system and that impede FSIS’s ability to assess the safety of the product," FSIS said in a notice signed by Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator for the Office of Policy and Program Development.

The notice warns processing plants to avoid making changes in their procedures in food manufacturing during testing and says that a Noncompliance Report (NR) could be issued to a plant that changes its practices without good reasons during LM testing. Permission to use the equipment involved in making the product could also be denied, the notice says.

Every four years, FSIS conducts a Food Safety Assessment (FSA) and routine sampling for listeria (RLM) at any plant that produces ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, such a frankfurters or chicken nuggets. Intensified Verification Testing (IVT) is conducted anytime LM is found in the product or on a food contact surface, the notice said.

"A recent analysis of data from FSIS LM verification programs showed that some establishments have altered routine production, sanitation, or food safety practices during RLM or IVT sampling," Engeljohn wrote. "These changes typically are temporary, in that they are applied only during FSIS RLM or IVT sampling, and normal production processes are resumed at the completion of the RLM or IVT sampling," he wrote.

The changes have included increasing the use of sanitizer during testing; "drastically" reducing the length of the production shift, the lot size, or the number of employees handling the product; skipping production of product with a higher level of risk, such as sliced product; and failing to use equipment that had previously been shown to be contaminated.

"Such practices can interfere with FSIS’s assessment of routine conditions or corrective actions at the establishment and may limit FSIS’s ability to determine whether post-lethality exposed RTE meat and poultry products are not adulterated as required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA)," Engeljohn wrote.

If the plant cannot provide a "supportable rationale" for making changes in its processes during the scheduled testing period, the test should be rescheduled and FSIS enforcement personnel should inform their district offices, the notice said.

Does zero tolerance promote such practices?