USDA FSIS Tightens Food Safety Actions

Farm agency says it will move faster on the "presumption" of a contamination issue.

Published on: May 3, 2012

In what the USDA agency classes as a move tied to continuous improvement, the Food Safety Inspection Service is ramping up its traceback efforts with tactics geared toward finding suspect food faster. The move, which would have the agency take action when there was a "presumptive conclusion" of contamination, could shave the time of a traceback effort by as much as two days, says Elizabeth Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety.

In a conference call with reporters, Hagen outlined a range of moves the agency is making to ramp up food safety efforts. The faster traceback starts with a move to begin investigating before there is a confirmed test for a problem. "This is a change of policy and we will be starting the traceback earlier," Hagen says. "We want to identify the product sooner when we may have a chance of preventing it from getting to consumers."

USDA FSIS Tightens Food Safety Actions
USDA FSIS Tightens Food Safety Actions

But the move will be more aggressive as well, working harder to determine the sole source of a contaminate and work with the processor to recall all suspect materials from plant to grocery store shelf. The agency will also review the production conditions at the time of contamination, which will force food plants to review their procedures more fully.

The agency is also working to implement requirements required in the 2008 Farm Bill to notify FSIS in 24 hours that a meat or poultry product that could harm consumers has been shipped, develop and maintain recall procedures and document each reassessment of key safety protocols - called HACCP for hazard analysis and critical control points.

Why now? "The reason we're doing this now is that we spend quite a bit of time reviewing data from food safety assessments, and we're working on how we can do everyday tasks better than before," Hagen says. "We need to be focusing on a preventive approach rather than a reactive one."

The biggest change will be the early traceback, where agency could get an indication of a problem, get an early presumptive "positive" result and move quickly to pull product from the market. How that plays out after implementation remains to be seen, "We've been talking about this for a couple of years now," Hagen says. "We want to protect as many people as possible…and the further ahead we can get we can focus on preventing these problems."