|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Communications to Congress
During fiscal year (FY) 2000, FSIS continued to make noteworthy progress with its farm-to-table food safety strategy. This strategy is designed to better protect the public’s health by improving the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products at each stage in food production, processing, distribution, and marketing.
In FY 2000, FSIS completed implementation of a new regulatory system for meat and poultry safety within the meat and poultry plants it regulates. The new, science–based system is improving food safety and making better use of Agency resources.
The Pathogen Reduction; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Systems rule (1) requires that each plant develop and implement written standard operating procedures for sanitation to reduce the likelihood that harmful bacteria will contaminate the finished product; (2) requires regular microbial testing by slaughter establishments to verify the adequacy of their process controls for preventing and removing fecal contamination; (3) establishes pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella that slaughter plants and plants producing raw ground products have to meet; and (4) requires that all meat and poultry plants develop and implement HACCP systems to prevent food safety problems, by addressing microbial, chemical, and physical hazards reasonably likely to occur.
The rule contains four separate phases, or implementation dates, the last of which was completed by the end of FY 2000:
During FY 2000, FSIS moved forward with its multi-year effort to evaluate the overall impact of the PR/HACCP systems final rule. Through a contract awarded to the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in January 1999, eight studies were initiated. These studies, examining Foodborne Illness; Hazard Levels in Meat and Poultry; Inspector Optimization Systems; Impacts on Domestic Industries; Impacts on International Trade; Impacts on Consumer Knowledge, Behavior, and Confidence; Consumer Education; and Animal Production Food Safety Education, are expected to be completed in 2001 and 2002.
January 25, 2000, marked the completion of Phase III of the HACCP system final rule. More than 6,400 federally inspected plants and 2,400 State-inspected plants are now operating under HACCP. The third and final phase included very small plants, defined as having 10 or fewer employees and less than $2.5 million in annual sales. FSIS provided extensive technical assistance to industry to help them meet the requirements of the HACCP rule. This, along with the training of its own inspectors, led to a smooth transition from “control and command” inspection to the new approach. Results reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that HACCP is successful in reducing pathogens in meat and poultry products and has been linked to reductions in foodborne illness.
FSIS recognized early on in the HACCP implementation process that both small and very small plants would benefit from guidance and assistance that the large plants, which implemented HACCP in 1998, did not require. In order to meet the needs of small and very small plants, a number of outreach programs were implemented. In 2000, more than 3,400 federally inspected and 2,300 State-inspected very small plants implemented HACCP. FSIS helped prepare federally and State-inspected very small plants to implement HACCP and continues to offer technical guidance and assistance to these plants.
FSIS continued a number of initiatives in order to meet the needs of the transitioning plants. FSIS continued to operate the Office of the National HACCP Small and Very Small Plant Coordinator during FY 2000. FSIS maintained a network of contacts and coordinators in all 50 States, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands in order to provide small and very small plants with guidance, training information, and HACCP materials. In addition to distributing HACCP materials to the very small plants, FSIS made cooperative agreements with three Historically Black 1890 Land-Grant Universities for the development of new materials on Listeria control in small plants, supporting documentation for hazard analyses, and stabilization methods for ready-to-eat products. FSIS also continued to distribute self-study packages to plants so that they could meet the training requirements of the HACCP Final Rule. FSIS revised the 13 generic HACCP models and guidebooks in late 1999 and continues to make these available to the plants on the FSIS website, www.fsis.usda.gov. And in March 2000, the Technical Service Center Hotline, which received over 50,000 calls, was discontinued due to completion of HACCP implementation. Incoming calls to the hotline are now directed to the appropriate FSIS staff.
In September 2000, the Secretary of Agriculture reported continued reductions in the prevalence of Salmonella in raw meat and poultry products produced under USDA’s new science-based inspection system. The new data cover large and small meat and poultry plants for the year ending June 30, 2000, for broilers, swine, and beef. The results show that the science-based, prevention-oriented food safety system is working. Combined test results in large and small plants for the same period indicate that the percentage of plants meeting the Salmonella performance standard is high.
Because the Pathogen Reduction/HACCP rule did not apply to on-line slaughter activities, FSIS developed new slaughter inspection models that are being tested with volunteer plants in the HACCP-based inspection models project (HIMP). To evaluate whether plants being inspected under the new models perform at least as well as they did under the traditional system, microbial and organoleptic data are being collected before and after the implementation of the new inspection models.
The HIMP is composed of two phases. The Baseline phase allows the Agency to collect organoleptic and microbial data that reflect the accomplishments of the current traditional inspection system. The Models phase consists of a transition period and a second data collection period. During the transition period, volunteer plants implement their new HACCP and Process Control Plans and begin to make any necessary adjustments to these procedures.
FSIS used results from the Baseline phase to develop performance standards for young chickens, market hogs, and young turkeys. Between 1998 and 2000, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) collected baseline data in 16 young chicken plants, 5 market hog plants, and 5 young turkey plants. Researchers collected 300 microbial samples from each plant over a 6-week period and analyzed them for Salmonella and generic E. coli. They also scored 2,000 carcasses over a 5-week period for a variety of organoleptic defects. The baseline organoleptic data formed the basis for the new species-specific food safety and other consumer protection standards.
During 2000, 11 In-Distribution Inspectors located in Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota were trained and spent two weeks on shadow assignments with compliance officers. They then began their duties, which include a combination of in-plant and in-distribution work. A public meeting was held in June to discuss the project. The meeting clarified that FSIS views the project as an information gathering and analysis effort to make determinations about the integrity of meat and poultry products bearing the mark of inspection and the food safety implications while they are in in-distribution channels. The information from the analyses conducted by in-distribution personnel is also being evaluated to make determinations about the effectiveness of inspected plants’ HACCP plans. FSIS is working cooperatively with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture as part of this project.
FSIS completed a draft risk assessment for E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef and presented the results to the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Food (NACMCF) and the public. The document is being peer reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences and is expected to be released to the public in the winter of 2001. The Agency anticipates making the document publicly available and using the results in its further policy consideration about the best control strategies for this pathogen.
During FY 2000, the Agency held a public meeting on E. coli O157:H7 at which it reported new research results, updated foodborne illness data, and described new technological approaches. The research indicated that E. coli O157:H7 may be more prevalent than previously believed. Foodborne illness data indicate that meat remains the most frequently occurring source of the pathogen in outbreaks. As part of its policy review, the Agency made a commitment to consider re-designing its testing program. Consumers urged the Agency to increase its vigilance regarding this pathogen.
In FY 2000, FSIS and FDA continued working together on a Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria) risk ranking. The draft risk ranking will estimate the public health impact of Listeria in 20 separate food categories. At the end of FY 2000, the draft report was nearing completion.
In February 1999, FSIS announced a series of long and short-term initiatives to help industry control Listeria in ready-to-eat products. During FY 2000, FSIS continued working towards these initiatives in a number of ways. In November 1999, FSIS released a refined laboratory method for detection and identification of Listeria. This method reduces the time to identify potentially contaminated products by at least two days. In March 2000, “Guidelines for Environmental and Chill Water/Brine Sampling for Listeria” were released, which describe possible procedures for selecting and sampling environmental sites for detection of contamination by Listeria. FSIS also worked on completing the “Performance Standards for the Production of Processed Meat and Poultry Products Proposed Rule,” which outlined food safety performance standards applicable to all partially heat-treated meat and poultry products as well as environmental testing requirements intended to reduce the incidence of Listeria.
On December 1, 2000, FSIS published a revision of Directive 10240.2 on Microbiological Sampling of Ready-to-Eat Meat and Poultry Products.
On May 8, 2000, FSIS held a public meeting to update the public on the initiatives taken to protect the public from foodborne illness associated with Listeria.
Today’s shift towards mass production and distribution of food, increased globalization of food trade, and changing consumer trends in eating habits makes identifying and tracking potential food hazards much more complex. Food safety has become a very important public health issue due to a more susceptible population and the emergence of new pathogens and more virulent or antibiotic-resistant strains of known pathogens. Through the President’s Food Safety Initiative, FSIS is engaged in collaborative efforts to improve public health by partnering with other public health agencies and stakeholders. These efforts include:
Specific activities include:
During FY 2000, FSIS assisted numerous local and State health departments with investigations of foodborne illnesses. Actions included assisting States with epidemiologic laboratory analysis, product traceback, identification of outbreak-related cases, recall of suspect product, and public notification of recalls.
The FSIS Health and Human Services Division (HHSD) epidemiology officer field staff was involved in 29 outbreak or emergency-related investigations. These included:
As recently as 1998, these incidents would have appeared as sporadic and unrelated cases scattered over numerous States. Instead, officials were able to identify an outbreak. This was due to the rapid information sharing between jurisdictions; reporting of data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FSIS; collaboration among government agencies to review the problem; standardizing data collection and coordination; and analyzing food and clinical isolates with modern molecular DNA testing methods.
The Consumer Surveillance Information System (CSIS) is designed to detect problems with meat, poultry, and egg products under FSIS jurisdiction through consumer complaints. The system logged 318 complaints in FY 2000. Cases entered into the CSIS database involve complaints alleging foreign materials contamination (43 percent), foodborne illness (46 percent), allergic reactions to unlabeled ingredients (2 percent), and other categories (9 percent). CSIS functions as an adjunct to the product recall process by locating potentially hazardous products already in the market that should be removed from commerce.
The Food Emergency Rapid Response and Evaluation Team (FERRET) was established to provide a quick and appropriate USDA response across agencies to food safety emergencies. In March 2000, the FERRET charter was finalized and planning commenced for the creation of a table-top exercise to test the group’s ability to respond to a bioterrorism threat to the food supply.
In FY 2000, the Workforce Transition Management Staff (WTMS) was formed to integrate and coordinate key agency program and policy initiatives with workforce implications. It also ensures that plans are in place for guiding and supporting employees during their transition to the new roles and occupations needed for FSIS to carry out its food safety and public health regulatory responsibilities. In addition, the WTMS oversees a steering committee, a diverse 30-member group represented by field and headquarters employees and representatives from the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, and the Association of Technical and Supervisory Professionals.
At the end of FY 2000, the WTMS monitored the activities of more than 15 initiatives, projects, or functions with workforce planning implications. This monitoring ensures that Agency initiatives are in accord with the Workforce of the Future's guiding principles. The overarching goal of these guiding principles is to ensure consistency in Agency decision-making, procedures, and communication and to maintain employee support for the transition to the Workforce of the Future.
During FY 2000, the FSIS Training and Education Committee completed interviews of FSIS managers and supervisors about their views of Agency education and training needs. TEC-2001 develops programs designed to ensure a well-educated, competent FSIS workforce, and explores and establishes educational partnerships in the community FSIS serves, including other Federal agencies, State agriculture and public health departments, the international trading arena, industry, and consumer groups. In addition, the Committee will continue to explore technology-based approaches to training delivery, such as distance learning.
All FSIS employees, including employee organizations, as well as other stakeholders who share the Agency's interest and commitment to food safety, will be solicited for input into this program. The wealth of experience from these groups beyond the Agency will ensure that all interests are represented.
Increased attention focused on workplace environment issues during FY 2000. On June 21, 2000, two Federal Compliance Officers and one California investigator were shot and killed during a food safety inquiry at a sausage plant. In August 2000, Agency executives attended a 2-day retreat to discuss workplace environment issues along with other priority items. The executives identified those workplace issues that they perceive contribute to employee dissatisfaction and lower productivity.
In August 2000, the FSIS Administrator established a Workplace Violence Prevention Taskforce. The Taskforce is composed of approximately 25 Agency employees from headquarters and field locations. The Taskforce has the following responsibilities:
FSIS reviewed the records of all 25 State programs during FY 2000. Rigorous comprehensive reviews of 8 of the State programs were initiated and will be completed in FY 2001. Each State program receives a comprehensive review every 3 to 5 years.
Reliable laboratory analyses of foods and food contaminants are fundamental to science-based food safety regulation and enforcement. During FY 2000, regulatory authorities and their supporting laboratories could not use data developed by other jurisdictions’ laboratories because of disparities in their approaches to laboratory procedures, analytic methods, and recordkeeping. This leads to inefficient use of public resources and delays in responses to hazards that increase public health risks. In FY 2000, FSIS supported and provided leadership for a pilot project to develop national standards for (1) laboratory procedures, (2) analytic methodologies, and (3) analytic data that will permit food safety authorities in different jurisdictions to use and rely on each others’ laboratory data.
At the beginning of FY 2000, nine Federal, state, and municipal laboratories began a pilot project to become accredited for operating under the strict, internationally recognized ISO 17025 laboratory standards. The participants’ aim is to become accredited by early FY 2002, and in the process develop procedures and guidance that will facilitate other jurisdictions’ accreditation. FSIS also participated with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the pilot laboratories in funding and overseeing the development of data standards and data sharing protocols. A June conference of representatives from Federal, State, and municipal food safety laboratories endorsed in principle the developing standards and protocols. Work will continue during FY 2001 on testing and refining the mechanisms required for data sharing. The third part of the project, developing standard analytic methodologies for analyses of regulatory significance, will be the focus of a meeting of Federal, State, and local food safety laboratories, and representatives of AOAC International, in June 2001.
Meat and poultry product recalls require coordination between FSIS and State officials that ordinarily oversee retail and other commercial food activities outside FSIS-inspected establishments. Inadequate coordination has led to problems in some instances, and to FSIS collaborating with the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) on a workgroup to review all parties’ concerns about recalls and to make recommendations. In June 2000, FSIS sponsored a meeting with State officials to address a wide range of policy and communication issues. The workgroup agreed that recalls of adulterated or misbranded product would be strengthened by a collaborative effort among all affected jurisdictions. The workgroup developed a proposed framework for an intergrated, multi-jurisdictional recall process that clarifies roles and responsibilities of all involved agencies and will result in more effective and efficient recalls. FSIS has responded by, among other things, proposing regulations to permit sharing of privileged distribution information with its State partners to permit more effective monitoring of recall effectiveness. The framework has been endorsed by the agency and AFDO as the basis for further discussions.
In FY 2000, FSIS was an active member of a multi-jurisdictional effort, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and State and local public health and agriculture authorities, to develop a manual for coordinating outbreak responses. The manual is expected to function as a guide, to be updated as needed, and made freely available to all parties.
During FY 2000, FSIS increased the level of its participation in the Biannual Conference for Food Protection (CFP), which establishes uniform, science-based guidance for the regulation of retail store, food service facility, and vending machine food safety. The CFP, which includes State and local regulators, industry representatives, academics, and consumer groups, recommends changes to the Food Code, which is published in alternate years by FDA in collaboration with FSIS.
At the March 2000 Conference, FSIS representatives advanced a number of changes intended to improve meat and poultry safety at the retail level, including guidelines for inspection of meat and poultry processing at retail, and guidelines for inspection of food recovery programs. Issues supported by FSIS, but not yet resolved, included authorizing retail establishments to use performance standards applicable to the processing of the same products produced under FSIS inspection, and revising the current Food Code provision on “Potentially Hazardous Foods.”
During FY 2000, more States, with FSIS encouragement, adopted the Food Code for their retail and food service food safety regulatory authorities. At the close of FY 2000, 25 states and Puerto Rico had adopted the Code for use by one or more agencies.
In recent years, retail operations exempt from inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) have increasingly undertaken the production of potentially high-risk processed products. State and local regulators overseeing these activities generally have no specialized training on how to recognize processing safety hazards for these products, on how to provide appropriate advice to the operators, or how to take action to protect public health. In FY 2000, FSIS, in collaboration with the University of Florida and AFDO, developed and pilot-tested at three locations around the country, a train-the-trainer course of instruction targeted to State and local regulators, but also open to industry and other interested persons. The feedback on this course was positive and underscored that there is a great demand for this training.
Fifteen States partnered with FSIS in FY 2000 to promote awareness and implementation of food safety and good production practices to reduce the risks of chemical, physical, and where appropriate, microbial hazards in live animals.
In FY 2000, FSIS utilized its new cooperative agreement authority to enter into Animal Production Food Safety Cooperative Agreements with Tribal Colleges (1994 Institutions); Historically Black, 1890 Land-Grant Colleges and Universities (HBCU); and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). FSIS sent solicitations to 53 institutions seeking their involvement in animal production and food safety outreach efforts. The partnerships are intended to develop outreach efforts in animal production food safety to small producers in the underserved and/or under-represented communities. The universities were encouraged to form partnerships to work together to accomplish this training.
FSIS asked the universities to conduct animal production food safety educational initiatives, and to use educational or training methodologies, which are most effective in improving the ability of food animal producers to maintain sustainable operations as they address food safety responsibilities and other requirements. The training is intended to focus on improving food safety and quality assurance outreach efforts to small producers in the underserved and/or under-represented communities in their area. As a result, each initiative is unique.
The following 11 universities responded to the program and were awarded funding: University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Caguas Central College, Puerto Rico; Crown Point Institute of Technology, New Mexico; Dull Knife Memorial College, Montana; Florida A&M University, Florida; University of Hawaii; Kentucky State University; Langston University, Oklahoma; New Mexico State University; Prairie View A&M University, Texas; and Tennessee State University.
USDA continues to mandate its agencies to provide multi-year civil rights and Equal Employment Opportunity training to all employees.
On September 30, 1999, FSIS completed the second module of USDA civil rights training, Program Delivery, for all non-bargaining unit employees and several hundred bargaining unit employees. The remaining FSIS bargaining unit employees completed this training as of October 10, 2000.
FSIS delivered Sexual Harassment Prevention Training via the Internet to approximately 800 non-bargaining unit employees during August and September of 1999. Non-bargaining unit employees completed this training by September 2000.
As of September 2000, approximately 800 non-bargaining unit employees received Special Emphasis training. It is expected that 95 percent of these employees will complete training by the end of FY 2001.
In FY 2000, FSIS conducted five listening sessions in response to a mandate by the Secretary for every agency to provide an opportunity for employees to discuss civil rights concerns with management officials. The Administrator and other senior management officials attended the five sessions. To ensure that dialogue on civil rights issues continues, this topic has been incorporated into the listening sessions conducted around the country as a result of findings in the National Performance Review employee survey.
The Agency conducted its Second Annual Diversity Conference in August 2000. Approximately 300 supervisory and nonsupervisory personnel from field offices and headquarters participated in a variety of workshops on employment and civil rights issues.
On November 9, 1999, FSIS announced and implemented a new Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (ADRP). This program focuses on the resolution of informal and formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. During FY 2000, there was a 50 percent participation rate of persons entering into the informal complaint process, with a resolution rate of 82 percent. To further enhance the prevention and management of conflict, 130 supervisors participated in conflict management workshops held in several field locations.
During FY 2000, the Voluntary Dispute Intervention Program (VDIP) had 8 mediators at headquarters and 18 mediators in the field. VDIP conducted 22 mediations resulting in 18 resolutions. About one-third of these mediations related to Equal Employment Opportunity issues. During this period, none of the agreements resulted in monetary payments. VDIP also conducted 3 facilitations during this time.
During FY 2000, the Technical Service Center’s Review Staff continued to update and improve the format for in-plant assessment of State meat and poultry inspection programs. These revisions were necessary because of the implementation of Pathogen Reduction and HACCP regulations in State programs. During FY 2000, 87 State-inspected establishments were reviewed in 10 States. Three of the 10 States were revisited during the fiscal year to verify the corrective actions on observed deficiencies. Special reports prepared by the Review Staff provided detailed information to the Federal-State Relations Staff for evaluation of the effectiveness of State inspection programs, and assisted in determining the “equal-to” status of State-managed meat and poultry inspection programs.
The staff provided special guidance and consultant service to a variety of organizations. These activities included:
In FY 2000, FSIS completed the fifth full year of an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct active population-based surveillance for foodborne diseases (Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, Yersinia, Cryptosporidium, and Cyclospora) in Minnesota, Oregon, Connecticut, Georgia and selected counties in California, Maryland, New York, Colorado, and Tennessee (total population: 30 million). This multi-year study is providing much needed data regarding the burden of foodborne illness in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are also partners in this effort.
FoodNet includes active surveillance for diseases caused by foodborne pathogens, case-control studies to identify risk factors for acquiring foodborne illness, and surveys to assess medical and laboratory practices related to the diagnosis of foodborne illness.
FoodNet is providing better estimates of the burden of foodborne illness and sources of specific diseases that are usually foodborne in the United States. FoodNet tracks and interprets trends in these diseases over time. The baseline and annual data are being used to document the effectiveness of the HACCP rule in decreasing the number of cases of major bacterial foodborne disease in the United States each year.
The following are key findings based on recently released estimates from CDC:
FSIS delivers analytical service support in chemistry, microbiology, pathology, and entomology from three Agency laboratories located in Athens, Georgia; St. Louis, Missouri; and Alameda, California. During FY 2000, FSIS renovated several facilities in order to increase capacity and efficiency, which were necessary to implement the new HACCP requirements.
FSIS designed the Nationwide Microbiological Baseline Data Collection programs to detect, identify, and count pathogenic bacteria and indicator organisms on meat and poultry produced under Federal inspection. The studies include testing for the presence of Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and several other pathogens in beef, pork, and broiler chicken carcasses, and in raw ground meat and poultry products. The establishment of baseline profiles for meat and poultry provides a yardstick for measuring the effectiveness of changes over time.
In FY 2000, Campylobacter testing of raw chicken carcasses ended. Baseline sampling for Campylobacter, Salmonella, and generic E. coli in young chickens will be completed in FY 2001. The resulting data will be used to assess the need for an industry performance standard for chickens with regard to Campylobacter under the PR/HACCP rule guidelines.
In FY 2000, FSIS continued monitoring programs for Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7, and Salmonella in meat and poultry products. A total of 8,962 ready-to-eat product lots were analyzed for Listeria monocytogenes, with 133 positive lots detected. Salmonella was detected in 14 of the 8,799 product lots analyzed.
Under the monitoring program for E. coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef, FSIS tested 5,727 total raw ground beef samples with 13 from imported products, 4,517 from federally inspected establishments, 1,160 from retail, and 37 from State-inspected establishments. Of these, 50 samples were confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7, with 33 samples from federally inspected establishments, 6 samples taken at retail, and one sample from imports.
The monitoring programs for Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and E. coli 0157:H7 are continuous and the number of samples analyzed increased in FY 2000 by 1,426.
In FY 2000, FSIS continued monitoring manufacturing practices and production of dry and semi-dry ready-to-eat fermented sausages by way of analyzing the finished product for Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxins. Improper fermentation may result in the growth of staphylococci and potential formation of enterotoxin, which poses a human health hazard. In FY 2000, a total of 522 samples were analyzed, with no samples testing positive for staphylococcal enterotoxin.
In FY 2000, FSIS conducted 32,980 Swab Tests on Premises (STOP) to detect the presence of antibiotics in meat and poultry. During FY 2000, 5,554 Calf Antibiotic and Sulfa Tests (CAST) were conducted to detect antibiotics and sulfa drugs in bob veal calves. CAST testing was to be discontinued in early 2001. The Fast Anti-microbial Screen Test (FAST) was developed in 1991 to replace CAST and STOP. In FY 2000, FSIS conducted testing of 154,949 samples using the FAST procedure. FAST will replace STOP once a sufficient number of positive samples are collected to prove its reliability.
During FY 2000, FSIS completed Federal FAIM implementation with automation of the last four districts (Albany, Atlanta, Boulder, and Minneapolis). FY 2000 was the final year of a 5-year implementation that came in on time and under budget. During the year, in excess of 850 Federal inspectors were trained and 4,200 computers were delivered.
FY 2000 was the second year of the State FAIM program. By the end of FY 2000, 20 States participated in FAIM and 17 completed their implementation. In total, more than 950 computers were delivered and more than 970 State inspectors were trained – 73 percent of the inspectors to be trained. Remaining State implementation is dependent solely upon the States securing funding for their 50 percent share of costs.
In FY 2000, more than 5,500 FSIS and State users successfully migrated from AT&T’s OASIS system to MCI’s UUDial telecommunications service. In addition to lowering costs by up to 40 percent, FSIS’ implementation of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) significantly improves the security of FSIS electronic communications and complies with all departmental standards. As part of the transition, FSIS and State inspectors are now provided access to those Internet Web sites required to perform their jobs. Internet access includes the USDA, OPM and GSA sites; the FSIS Web site and all associated links; plus other sites such as FedEx, SATO Travel, and MapQuest.
FAIM continues to augment its library of computer-based training (CBT). A FAIM Basics course was developed to provide slaughter line inspectors with the basic skills needed to operate a FAIM computer, use standard office automation software, and take computer-based training. Through the issuance of this CD, FAIM training expanded to all inspection personnel – with the depth of the training being dependent on the inspector’s need to use a computer.
FSIS implemented an improved version of the Performance Based Inspection System software (PBIS 5.0), providing users with a Windows-based interface into a nationwide centralized database. By the end of FY 2000, all FSIS districts and State programs were operating under PBIS 5.0. Pilot testing of a companion inspector-level PBIS software program began in FY 2001, with nationwide implementation to commence in late FY 2001.
As part of an ongoing replenishment program for microcomputers in office locations, FSIS replaced more than 450 in Headquarters, District Offices, and the Technical Service Center. This upgrade was the first step in preparation for the FY 2002 transition to the Windows 2000 operating system.
During FY 2000, FSIS continued to carry out its plan to streamline and consolidate its regulations. By eliminating or converting to performance standards, FSIS has transitioned from command-and-control regulations and made its regulations consistent with HACCP.
On October 29, 1999, FSIS published revised regulatory requirements for sanitation that were applicable to both meat and poultry establishments and that were consolidated in a single part of the regulations. The Agency eliminated unnecessary differences between the old requirements for meat and poultry establishments and converted many highly prescriptive sanitation requirements to performance standards.
On November 29, 1999, the Agency issued a final rule adding to the PR/HACCP regulations new generic E. coli process control criteria for sheep, goats, equines, ducks, geese, and guineas. Under the PR/HACCP regulations, slaughtering establishments are required to verify the adequacy of their process controls for the prevention and removal of fecal contamination and associated bacteria.
Also on November 29, 1999, FSIS published a final rule amending its rules of practice for Agency enforcement actions, defining each type of enforcement action it may take, the conditions under which the action could be taken, and the procedures the Agency would follow. The new rules of practice are applicable to both meat and poultry establishments and are consolidated in a single part of the regulations.
On December 23, 1999, FSIS published a final rule approving the use of food irradiation on refrigerated or frozen, uncooked meat, meat byproducts, and certain other meat food products to reduce levels of foodborne pathogens and extend shelf life. On the same day, FSIS published a final rule that harmonized and improved the efficiency of procedures used by FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration for reviewing and approving the use of food ingredients and sources of radiation. The final rule also consolidated various regulations and the separate listings of approved ingredients and sources of radiation for meat and poultry into a single new part, applicable to both meat and poultry establishments. Under the new, harmonized food ingredient approval procedures, FDA lists in its regulations (in Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations) food ingredients and sources of radiation that are safe for use in the production of meat and poultry products. It is no longer necessary for FSIS to conduct a separate rulemaking after FDA has approved a substance that might be used in meat.
On May 30, 2000, FSIS published a final rule amending its regulations to remove the remaining requirements pertaining to establishment-operated partial quality control (PQC) programs. The Agency removed the prior-approval requirements for such programs in 1997. The final rule eliminated the design requirements for PQC programs and the requirements for establishments to have PQC programs for certain products or processes. For example, PQC programs for certain poultry inspection systems and for thermal processing were removed. The amended regulations are more consistent with the PR/HACCP regulations and give inspected establishments greater flexibility to adopt new technologies and methods for improving food safety and other consumer protections.
Also in FY 2000, FSIS began an initiative to comprehensively reform its "other consumer protection" regulations that focus mainly on the prevention of economic adulteration. On March 17, 2000, the Agency published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking requesting comments on the need and desirability of revising its approach to verifying that meat and poultry products are not misbranded, economically adulterated, or otherwise unacceptable for reasons that do not necessarily raise food safety concerns. The same day, the Agency separately proposed to eliminate requirements governing the frequency with which it samples cured pork products for compliance with the protein-fat-free standards and the actions it must take when it finds a discrepancy. The proposal would enable the Agency to reallocate some of its in-plant and laboratory resources to give greater emphasis to food safety concerns.
In FY 2000, FSIS provided a variety of services to help industry comply with HACCP and performance standard regulations. This guidance and assistance came in various forms, including offering HACCP Generic models and guidebooks, videos and manuals on recordkeeping requirements, providing a Listeria guidebook, providing self-study packages, offering assistance through the contacts and coordinators in all States, providing a toll-free HACCP hotline and continuing to develop new material. FSIS is also actively working with other Federal agencies to assure that its commitment to the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Act is met.
Twelve public meetings were held in FY 2000 to discuss FSIS policies, procedures, and issues such as HACCP implementation, the HACCP-based inspection models project, the Agency's E. coli O157:H7 policy, and the Agency’s Listeria strategy.
FSIS and FDA co-sponsored a series of public meetings in Columbus, Ohio, on March 31, 2000, in Sacramento, California, on April 16 and in Washington, D.C., on July 31, 2000 to discuss the agencies’ current thinking for proposed regulations to ensure egg safety from farm to table. The discussion included possible requirements related to the production, processing, packaging, and retail sale of all eggs.
The FSIS Web site, www.fsis.usda.gov, is a valuable resource for consumers, food safety educators, the regulated industry, FSIS employees, government officials, and other professionals. The site contains thousands of documents, including the Agency’s news releases, information on meat and poultry product recalls, sections on HACCP implementation, speeches by FSIS officials and the Under Secretary for Food Safety, regulations and directives, Agency reports and issuances, and career and employment information. During FY 2000, the Recall Information Center, Codex Alimentarius Commission, Mail Order Food Safety, and Freedom of Information Act Reading Room pages were added to the Web site.
The Web site has become an integral part of the FSIS publication distribution process. Consumer publications, employee newsletters, and educational materials may be downloaded in a variety of electronic formats. Visitors to the site may also view video clips including news releases and public service announcements.
The Web site now offers a number of electronic mail addresses that allow visitors to submit questions and comments to various programs and staffs within the Agency. In FY 2000, the most heavily used of these mailboxes, firstname.lastname@example.org, received nearly 2,200 inquiries.
In February 2000, FSIS introduced a new, business-friendly Web site providing essential labeling, standards, and ingredients information to help small meat and poultry processors and other customers understand the basic labeling rules and procedures. The site is geared toward helping the small business community understand the rudiments of labeling and standards, and provides a key contact in the Labeling and Consumer Protection Staff for questions. The Agency provides a staff liaison charged with facilitating resolution of small business issues on a one-on-one basis. Since its inception, dozens of small meat and poultry processors have contacted the Agency liaison through the Web site. Over 200 inquiries, mostly from the industry and public, are sent to the Labeling Policy Staff monthly for guidance on issue resolution.
USDA's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline provides direct answers to consumers about specific food safety questions and concerns covering a wide variety of food safety issues. Over 86,000 calls were taken during FY 2000 including over 300 food handling press requests answered by the Hotline staff. Consumer food safety questions were focused mainly around outbreaks of foodborne illness, recalls of meat and poultry products, and safe storage, preparation, and handling of food. More specific calls in FY 2000 concerned mail order food safety, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), Listeria monocytogenes, product dating, and organic food labeling. The Hotline can also be reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.
Based on USDA and other scientific research, FSIS launched a national consumer education campaign to increase consumer use of food thermometers at a May 25, 2000, press conference, hosted by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Under Secretary for Food Safety. Input from nationwide focus groups helped to develop the messenger of the campaign, Thermy™, and his message: “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right!” Thermy™ educational materials, developed in English and Spanish, were distributed nationally to schools, cooperative extension, and other educators. A public service announcement was distributed to TV stations nationwide. Also, syndicated feature articles were sent to newspapers across the country. The Thermy™ materials are available on the Web site: www.fsis.usda.gov/thermy. Thermometer companies, grocery chains, and other partners are using Thermy™ on product packaging, in-store floor displays, and consumer information publications. Thermy™ was featured as a walking character in the 2000 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
During FY 2000, FSIS developed and distributed nationally a publication entitled Using Partnerships to Fight BAC! ™: A Workbook for Food Safety Educators. A satellite video teleconference for educators introduced the workbook. The Fight BAC! food safety video "How Our School Fought BAC!™ for Food Safety" won a first place award from the U.S. International Film and Video Festival. The Fight BAC!Ô messages are also the cornerstone of a new patient education flyer to be distributed by the American Medical Association (AMA) as part of the AMA/FSIS/FDA/CDC Primer.
FSIS conducted focus groups with pregnant women in four regions of the country to learn more about the women’s knowledge of Listeria monocytogenes and safe food handling. With the results and recommendations, FSIS worked with the International Food Information Council (IFIC) to produce a patient flyer targeted to pregnant women that will be distributed to physicians.
During FY 2000, food safety was included for the first time as one of the dietary guidelines published by USDA and HHS. The Fight BAC!™ messages, “Clean, Separate, Chill, and Cook,” are key components of the food safety guideline.
The theme for the September 2000 observance was one of the Fight BAC!™ messages, "Be Smart. Keep Foods Apart--Don't Cross Contaminate." FSIS teamed up with FDA to produce a 35-page planning guide that was distributed to more than 40,000 educators and is available on the Web at: www.foodsafety.gov/september. Educators and health professionals used the materials and interacted with FSE staff to share their success stories.
FSIS continues to develop ongoing food safety education projects to reach consumers nationwide. A video and publication To Your Health: Food Safety for Seniors were produced jointly with FDA for distribution to senior centers, organizations serving seniors, county extension offices, county health offices, and national aging organizations. Another major consumer education project included development of a publication Cooking For Groups: A Volunteer’s Guide For Food Safety and the accompanying Video News Release highlighting potluck meals and/or community dinners. FSIS also worked with the AMA, the FDA, and the CDC developing the publication Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses: A Primer for Physicians. It will feature the four Fight BAC!™ messages. This activity was planned and implemented in accordance with the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) policies to provide continuing medical education for physicians, FSIS employees, and food safety partners for assistance in diagnosing and managing foodborne illnesses.
In FY 2000, the White House transmitted legislation that was introduced in the Senate by Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD). The New Markets for State-Inspected Meat Act of 1999 (S. 1988) would have allowed for the interstate shipment of State-inspected meat and poultry products. However, the bill was never brought to a vote before the full Senate.
The FSIS Administrator, Associate Administrator, and other Agency officials testified before congressional committees and briefed members and committee staff on many issues, including the FY 2001 budget, country of origin labeling, HIMP, egg safety, interstate shipment, and other topics of importance.
FSIS continued responding to Congressional mandates by preparing and forwarding the following reports to Congress:
The Conference Report accompanying the Fiscal Year 1999 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act directed USDA to conduct a study on the potential effects of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on imported fresh muscle cuts of beef and lamb. In January 2000, the Agency prepared and delivered the report, which addressed the costs and benefits of country-of-origin labeling.
The report states that COOL is not a food safety issue but a marketing tool for domestic beef and lamb producers. The report addresses the potential costs to industry and government, benefits to consumers and producers, international trade issues, and the voluntary program already under current statutes and regulations. The Report also discusses a variety of ways to implement a labeling program. Should Congress mandate COOL, the report recommends that labeling be done in a manner consistent with U.S. international trade agreements and obligations, and that labeling requirements be drafted in a way that minimizes industry and consumer costs.
In a related activity, the Conference Committee Report accompanying the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2000 directed the Secretary of Agriculture to define “United States Cattle” and “United States Beef Product,” and to determine the most appropriate label terminology to reflect those definitions. The Agency worked on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) regarding which cattle and fresh beef products should be considered products of the United States.
In accordance with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Uruguay Round Agreements Act, USDA was designated as the lead agency for U.S. participation in the sanitary and phytosanitary standards-setting activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Codex, established in 1962, is the organization responsible for establishing international food standards. Through these standards, Codex protects the health of consumers and ensures fair practices in food trade. As designated by the Secretary, FSIS coordinates U.S. participation in these activities.
The FSIS Administrator served as Chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The United States served as host government to the 2000 Session of the Committee on Processed Fruits and Vegetables (CCPFV), and the 2000 Session of the Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Food (CCRVDF). Additionally, it completed plans for the live web-cast of the October 2000 session of Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) to further enhance transparency in the Codex process.
On May 31, 2000, FSIS published a notice in the Federal Register informing the public of the sanitary and phyto-sanitary standard-setting activities of the Commission. During the course of the fiscal year, FSIS announced through Federal Register Notice, publication on the FSIS Web site, or both, approximately 20 public meetings on Codex standard-setting activities. At these meetings information on issues was provided and comments were accepted. Codex Circular Letters are posted on its Web site. Through Circular Letters, Codex solicits governments’ comments on issues that will be considered. This practice allows broader and earlier participation in the U.S. Codex process. Also, FSIS posted information on upcoming sessions of Codex Committees and reports of recent meetings on its Web site. These activities have contributed to the transparency of the standard-setting process.
In March 2000, FSIS sponsored an interdepartmental workshop on Precaution in Food Safety. This workshop formed the basis for the U.S. submissions to the Ad-Hoc Group on Food Safety in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and for U.S. positions on the application of precaution in Risk Analysis in the Codex Committee on General Principles.
FSIS coordinated the naming of delegates to and participated in inaugural meetings of three Ad-Hoc Intergovernmental Task Forces. These fixed-term bodies will elaborate guidelines, standards, and other texts related to animal feeding, vegetable and fruit juices, and foods derived from biotechnology.
FSIS developed and delivered two training programs in January and August 2000 for approximately 40 U.S. Government delegates and alternate delegates to Codex Committees. One session focused on the operational aspects of the Codex Alimentarius. In the other session, experts presented a cross-cultural training program that focused on negotiating issues with representatives of the several distinct cultural-types within Latin America and the Caribbean. Experts also presented a descriptive analysis of the historical basis for the current economies of countries in the region. These sessions are intended to improve the skills of U.S. delegates.
FSIS briefed numerous international visitors on U.S. Codex activities. These included visitors from Bulgaria, Egypt, the European Union, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
FSIS made presentations in numerous domestic and international symposia and other forums on the work of U.S. Codex and of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. International symposia included the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, a meeting of the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association, and a Malaysian Nutrition Labeling Conference. Domestic symposia were sponsored by such groups as the American Dietetics Association, the American School Food Service Association, the Food, Drug and Law Institute, the Food Industry Codex Coalition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and Public Citizen.
FSIS participated in a joint World Health Organization (WHO)/U.S. Government-sponsored workshop for Codex members from the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean.
FSIS administratively coordinated U.S. Government participation in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/WHO Conference on World Food Trade Beyond 2000: Science-Based Decisions, Harmonization, Equivalence, and Mutual Recognition. The recommendations of this conference, if implemented, will help ensure the scientific basis of future work of Codex, and will result in a greater role for the WHO in food safety. The Executive Committee of Codex agreed that many of its recommendations should be incorporated into the Commission’s Medium-Term Plan and that others were already being acted upon.
FSIS coordinated U.S. Government participation in the Ad-Hoc group on Food Safety in OECD. This group was formed as a result of the agreements by the Group of Eight, which consists of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Russia.
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