Food Safety Consortium
Staying Ahead of New USDA and FDA Mandates for Controlling Pathogens in Food Processing
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Food Safety Consortium, Schaumberg, Illinois, November 19, 2015
Good morning and thanks for having me here this morning. It’s great to be here with all of you.
I’m Al Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and I lead the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates all meat, poultry and egg products in the United States.
Today I will provide you with a few regulatory updates and some priorities for collaboration. And then, I’ll be happy to answer questions you may have.
One of our main priorities is to work more closely with industry, the states, and our agency partners before, during, and after outbreaks.
FSIS is focusing on modernization. This means that we need to think about new ways for government and industry to work together to stop foodborne illness and to make our nation’s food the safest it can be.
There are several representatives from FSIS here to talk about some of the ways that we can work together to make food safer for all consumers. Later, the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk will be here later to tell you how FSIS works with establishments and industry on any challenges that they may face.
They will give you greater detail about some of our specific initiatives, but I wanted to start off by talking about our modernization efforts and then discuss how we can continue to work together.
Modernization and Prevention
To start, I’ll talk about modernization of poultry. With last year’s New Poultry Inspection System final rule, inspectors focus on their key role, which is to verify that the establishment produces safe product.
There are two inspectors assigned to each slaughter line, one at the end of the line examining each carcass for food safety defects, and one off-line performing an array of activities that are designed to verify product safety.
The rule requires that establishments take a direct role in ensuring that their process is under control.
Plants must test for pathogens both at a point before the chiller and at a point after the chiller to ensure that the level of the pathogen is being controlled by the establishment’s process.
To further build on the trust in the safety of U.S. products, at the end of January, we proposed new standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings.
The new and revised performance standards are designed to achieve the Healthy People 2020 goal for Salmonella, which is to attain a 25% reduction in human illnesses attributed to poultry by the year 2020.
These proposed standards and new testing patterns will have a major impact on public health, potentially preventing over 50,000 illnesses annually.
We are also making a number of changes in how we do sampling. We are doing rolling sets and will be testing product once per week every week and look back at 52 samples.
Our recent work with poultry modernization is a perfect example of the type of proactive, prevention-based food policy that we’re focused on at FSIS…policies that are based on science, supported by strong data, and ones that will truly improve public health.
I also want to talk about our new Food Safety Assessment (FSA) procedures since they are a recent example of how we are modernizing and they affect industry directly.
Over the summer, we instituted a dramatically improved FSA methodology.
FSA’s are now more targeted and streamlined. While the old approach took almost 38 days in the establishment, the new approach takes 5-7 days in plant and will require fewer resources.
If an FSA is warranted, the EIAO will develop an Assessment Plan for the FSA that is focused on the food safety problems identified in the PHRE.
We developed this new methodology because it is a better way of doing business. It’s more efficient and it’s more effective…And it’s going to lead to improvements in public health.
That’s what consumers expect of us, that’s what you expect of us and that’s what we expect of ourselves.
We are continually looking for new ways, both big and small, to modernize the agency. It’s something that I’ve been talking about and working on for years, and as long as I am in this job that’s going to be the case.
There are many opportunities to modernize throughout FSIS. We’ve already explored several of them. We’ve modernized our structure and more recently we’ve begun to modernize poultry slaughter inspection.
We’re going to continue to modernize, looking closely at swine slaughter. As you’re aware, there are 5 swine slaughter establishments participating in the HACCP-based inspection models project.
This project has allowed us to collect a lot of data. We’re going to continue to collect more and within the next year I hope to have enough information to decide whether an expansion to the entire swine slaughter industry is warranted.
While we do not have a HIMP-style project for beef, we are looking at ways of modernizing beef slaughter.
This approach will be informed by what we’ve learned through modernization of other areas. It will also be based on sound science and data.
For example, one thing that we’ve gained a better appreciation of, through the process of modernizing poultry inspection, is using testing at multiple points through the production process to measure process control.
We will soon be concluding our year-long beef carcass baseline survey. Over the course of this survey, FSIS personnel collected samples at two points in the production process.
First, immediately after hide removal but before evisceration and then at pre-chill, after antimicrobial interventions are applied.
This survey is part an overall effort aimed at improving sanitary dressing procedures and slaughter controls. We may use the survey to develop a guidance document, and we may also use it to inform future testing.
MTB and Ground Beef Records
To further improve our actions to minimize outbreaks, FSIS has published a few rules to improve the safety of ground beef, including the Mechanically Tenderized Beef (MTB) Rule, which becomes effective in May 2016.
Research shows that the mechanical tenderization process may transfer pathogens from the outside of the meat into the meat, which poses a greater risk to public health than intact beef products.
FSIS will require validated cooking instructions on mechanically tenderized beef products going to household consumers, hotels, restaurants, or similar institutions.
This rule is just one example of our Agency’s work to ensure that consumers receive proper food safety education.
We have also proposed to require that retail stores and establishments that grind beef maintain records on the suppliers of all source materials that they use in the preparation of each lot of raw ground beef that they produce.
Of the 130 outbreaks that FSIS investigated from 2007 through 2013, 74 were determined to be caused by the consumption of ground beef.
Of those 74, 31 were linked to beef ground at retail, but in a number of these outbreaks, the retailer did not maintain adequate records to identify the suppliers that provided the source materials.
We need to have the supplier information to be able to trace the outbreak back to its source. Being able to do so will help us to better understand how the contamination with the STEC occurred.
The rule is expected to become final in a few weeks, so stay tuned to our continued outreach and education initiatives.
Best Practices to Control Listeria at Retail
We are always looking for new ways to increase the safety of our consumers, wherever their food may come from.
I know Jennifer is talking more in depth about Listeria monocytogenes, but I just wanted to tell you a little about what FSIS is doing to educate consumers and industry on how to best prevent Lm from getting into our products.
This past summer, FSIS announced our “Best Practices Guidance for Controlling Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in retail delis.”
Because Lm is everywhere in the environment, it can easily be transported by humans, equipment, vehicles, and shoes into the processing plant.
In addition, RTE products that are popular at delis may support the growth of the pathogen during refrigerated storage.
By controlling sanitation in the post-lethality processing environment or implementing interventions in their products, establishments can ensure that their RTE products do not become contaminated with Lm.
The guide discusses steps that retailers can take to prevent certain ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, such as deli meats and deli salads, from being contaminated with Lm.
Retailers can use these best-practices to ensure that their meat and poultry products are safe for consumers. There is also a self-assessment tool that retailers can use to monitor their own progress and find new solutions for problems.
While these practices are designed to control Lm specifically, they also may help control other food borne pathogens that may be introduced into the retail deli environment and other facilities where consumers take possession of food.
New Allergen Guidelines
Another way we’re controlling hazards are the new guidelines that we just released to assist meat, poultry and egg product producers in properly managing ingredients that could result in allergic reactions for some consumers.
Our mission is to protect America’s most vulnerable populations, including children, from harm, and these new guidelines do just that.
Beyond keeping our families safe, these guidelines also provide a useful tool to help food companies avoid preventable, costly recalls.
Food allergens are a public health issue impacting millions of Americans.
Over the last few years, there has been an increase of FSIS regulated products due to undeclared allergens.
By following these new guidelines, establishments are more likely to ensure that product labels declare all ingredients, as required by law, and that products do not contain undeclared allergens or other undeclared ingredients.
We’re also making some changes on labeling. FSIS has reviewed the FDA proposals for the updating of the nutrition facts panel and the updating of the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) and supports the updating of both regulations.
FSIS is currently developing proposed regulations to be consistent with the changes that FDA is proposing including all the technical changes and the supporting economic assessment.
FSIS and FDA are working together closely to develop the RACC changes so that we are able to use the same parameters and algorithms in the proposed modifications of RACC’s.
Our agency has approved labels that state the products meet the standards of a third-party certifier regarding the use of feed containing ingredients that are not genetically engineered.
The National Organic Program within USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service is one example of a third-party certifying organization.
FSIS has not developed any new policy regarding non-GE products and is not certifying that the labeled products are free of genetic engineering or genetic modifications.
We’ve determined that certain statements of this type are truthful and not misleading, and that they are claims that are verifiable.
We’ve posted guidance online, including a “Non-Genetically Engineered” Statement on the Labeling of Meat and Poultry Products that Qualify as USDA Organic.
With regard to the term “natural” FSIS’ current policy is that the term “natural” may be used in the labeling of a meat or poultry product if: the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed.
I’m glad to be here today with all of you from industry and government. You serve as leaders of organizations and agencies that share the same commitment to food safety as FSIS does.
We live in a rapidly changing and growing world, so increased communication with our public and private partners, especially during recalls and outbreaks just makes us more effective.
Innovative ideas come when we have experts from all different food safety backgrounds and roles sitting at the table.
Along with other agencies, like the FDA and the CDC, we’re working on improving estimates of foodborne illness source attribution derived from outbreak data.
These can inform efforts to prioritize food safety initiatives, interventions, and policies for reducing foodborne illnesses.
In fact, I just came straight from the Integrated Foodborne Outbreak Response and Management Conference in Phoenix, which brought together scientists, epidemiologists, and environmental health specialists focusing on foodborne and enteric disease outbreak response.
On that note, I think there is great opportunity to further collaborate with organizations from all different parts of the food safety spectrum.
It’s so important to involve a variety of decision makers—especially in the area of recalls, illness investigations, inspections, and assessing whether retailers are practicing the best practices contained in the FSIS guidance.
It takes cooperation from government, scientists, educators, consumers, industry and others to protect public health most effectively.
This cooperation is necessary when dealing with the complex issues of food safety. Individuals and organizations all have valuable input and a different way of looking at things.
We at FSIS really appreciate and value all of the hard work that all of you are doing to enhance food safety cooperation.
Thank you for all of your great efforts and I will now take this time to answer any questions you may have.