Southwest Meat Association Conference
USDA Food Safety Initiatives and Priorities
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Southwest Meat Association, San Antonio, Texas, July 24, 2015
Good morning and thanks for having me here today. It’s great to be here with all of you.
Today I will provide you with a few regulatory updates and also discuss priorities for FSIS right now. And then, I’ll be happy to answer questions you may have.
I’m going to jump right in with a recent change that we’ve made at the agency, because it’s illustrative of the kind of thinking that you’ve seen from us in recent years and that you’re going to see more of.
New FSA Methodology
About two weeks ago we instituted a dramatically improved FSA methodology. FSAs are now more targeted and streamlined.
- Old approach: 38 days in the establishment, on average
- New: 5-7 days in plant
- Old approach: sampling occurred during FSA
- New: sampling occurs prior to FSA, will typically take 3 days
- Old FSAs required 16 tools and 3,000 questions
- New FSAs require 6 primary tools and just 400 questions
- Old FSAs often amounted to a repeat of IPP tasks
- New FSAs are a high-level assessment focused on the design of the system
- Under the old approach EIAOs can be taken off of FSAs to perform other tasks. This leads to drawn out FSAs which I understand are frustrating for you.
- They’re frustrating for us too and so under the new approach it’s not going to happen. District Offices will manage resources to ensure FSAs take 5-7 days.
All plants scheduled to receive an FSA will first receive a Public Health Risk Evaluation, PHRE, which is described in FSIS Directive 5100.4.
The PHRE is a decision-making process used to determine whether an FSA is warranted. It includes two parts:
- First—an EIAO evaluates the establishment’s historical data and becomes familiar with the establishment
- Second—if necessary, they recommend the establishment be scheduled for an FSA.
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.
I started out talking about the new FSA procedures because it’s a recent example of modernization.
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 hog slaughter. As you’re aware, there are 5 hog 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 hog 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.
In addition to these efforts, we also have our Strategic Performance Working Group looking at options for improving sanitary dressing, especially making sure that our employees are well trained and know what they’re looking for.
New Strategic Plan
I’ll tell you that I’ve been a reluctant convert to strategic planning.
Government agencies sometimes develop these types of plans and they pat themselves on the back. But then the plan ends up collecting dust on a shelf.
I am proud to say that has not happened with the FSIS Strategic Plan. Our Strategic Plan, along with our Annual Performance Plans, has kept us focused and has helped us hold ourselves accountable.
Our current strategic plan runs through the end of Fiscal Year 2016. We are in the process now of developing our new strategic plan. Modernization is a theme that will continue to be featured prominently.
Recent developments/What’s next?
Before taking questions I just want to highlight a recent document that we’ve published and then touch briefly on what’s coming up next.
In May we issued the final guidance document for HACCP validation. Plants can begin using that document now, but FSIS will not be conducting verification activities until next year.
We will use a stepwise approach to verification activities. Meaning we’ll start with large establishments on January 4, 2016, and then move on to small and very small establishments on April 4, 2016.
We will be conducting outreach and a series of webinars prior to conducting verification activities.
We’re currently analyzing comments on the grinding logs rule, which applies to retail establishments and official establishments that grind beef.
We expect to issue a final rule this fiscal year, but anticipate a delayed implementation date while we conduct outreach and education.
Non-ambulatory Disabled Veal Calves
The proposed rule issued May 13, 2015 (80 FR 27269) requiring that there not be a rest period afforded calves at the time of ante-mortem inspection
- FSIS agreed with the petition asserting that the resting of the calves provided an incentive to continue depriving calves the necessary nutrients to thrive and walk to slaughter (an animal welfare issue)
- The comment period is still open
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.
You represent the heart of the meat packing industry and I really value your cooperation, commitment to excellence, and dedication to the community.
I would now like to answer any questions you may have.