Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

USDA Proposes ‘Test and Hold’ for Meat and Poultry

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday moved toward mandating test-and-hold in the meat and poultry industry, a policy change aimed at reducing the amount of unsafe food that reaches grocery stores.

The proposed requirement would allow USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to hold meat and poultry products, keeping them out of commerce, until FSIS test results for “harmful substances” — like pathogens or drug residues — are received. The current policy does not require companies to hold onto product while test results are pending. According to USDA, 44 Class I food recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented if companies had waited for test results.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen told reporters that while test-and-hold is already practiced by many of the big meat and poultry processors, the new policy could yield significant public health results.

The American Meat Institute, which petitioned FSIS to make test-and-hold mandatory in 2008, praised the decision. “We believe that this policy will prevent needless recalls, further ensure food safety, and maintain consumer confidence,” AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said in a statement.

“Meat and poultry products will be prevented from reaching consumers until our inspectors have the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate test results. This approach will help us enhance protection of the food supply, reduce recalls, and ensure that all consumers are getting the safest food possible,” said Vilsack, adding that the move toward a new policy was part of a wider administration effort to focus on food safety reforms.

“This is just really another tool we have to prevent public health,” said Hagen during a call with reporters. “This is a win for everybody and we’re excited to move forward.”

“We’ve made a big effort to do outreach and support specifically to small and very small establishments … We understand that small and very small establishments are a significant part of the meat and poultry industry,” said Hagen, when asked how USDA will assist small and medium-sized establishments in making the switch. “It’s important to keep our focus on what’s the priority here, what’s the value here that we’re trying to move down the road? That’s safe food for all, no matter what size operation is producing that food.”

The policy change will have the biggest impact on small- and

medium-sized processors who may not be holding product and waiting for

FSIS results before shipping. According to Richard Raymond, who lead FSIS under the Bush

administration, his team did not pursue making the policy mandatory in part

because it is already widely in practice.

“This is an extremely small percentage of plants,” Raymond told Food Safety News. “Ninety-percent of the meat we eat — the big five — they’re doing this already. They’re doing their own testing in addition to FSIS testing.”

“It is an onerous issue for these very small plants,” he added, calling the policy proposal a “political play” to reduce the number of embarrassing recalls. 

The proposed policy requirement will be available here.

FSIS is seeking comments on the proposal over a 90-day period. Comments can be submitted here, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS Docket Clerk, Room 2-2127, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Mailstop 5272, Beltsville, MD 20705.

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    “‘It is an onerous issue for these very small plants,’ he added, calling the policy proposal a “political play” to reduce the number of embarrassing recalls.”
    You mean embarrassing recalls of proven tainted product? Tainted product that could make someone sick, and sometimes does? Are those the embarrassing recalls you’re refering to? Preventing the release into the market and delayed recall of proven tainted product is objectionable, you mean? Do you not smell an onerous “political” taint to the objections of these self-absorbed “very small plants”?
    Oh heck, everything is “onerous” to “very small” producers, absolutely everthing and anything that might slow their grubby profit-taking.
    Far too many small operators have no concern for consumer safety as it is. Mandatory test-and-hold is the only way to bring them up to standard on this issue.
    I find these grasping “very small” producers to be onerous, with their smug cavalier approach to my family’s safety…and your’s.

  • Doc Mudd, who are you sir. This is an onerous very small plant who’d like to speak w/you in my smug cavalier approach to your family’s safety.

  • Minkpuppy

    Amy-Don’t waste your time with Doc Mudd unless you are masochistic and enjoy being insulted. It’s totally beyond Mudd’s comprehension that there are small producers out there that do care about food safety.
    Personally, I find Mudd’s attitude to be “onerous” and tiresome. I have yet to see anything constructive come out of discussions with him/her.

  • Doc Mudd

    “According to USDA, 44 Class I food recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented if companies had waited for test results.”
    Grumble and fuss all you want, if you’re an operator who tests and ships without waiting for results you’re just another recall waiting to happen…and that’s onerous to consumers, to distributors and to the larger industry’s reputation for quality and safety. If you’re not one of those hurry-up corner-cutting operations, then this mandate doesn’t affect you; you’re already in compliance (and a gold star on your forehead, sincerely!).
    The reasoning from USDA is clear. In an interview Vilsak explained, “Our best estimate is this is going to help prevent 25,000 illnesses, so that suggests there’s some significant work to be done in this area, which is why we’re making it mandatory.”
    If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. And that is onerous. Sorry if that makes our “discussions tiresome” – I don’t think they are entirely unproductive, though.

  • doc raymond

    Mudd, I think you have talked yourself into a corner. 25,000 illnesses will be prevented? Give me a break. They can’t do anything about a Salmonella positive, so test and hold is not anything worth enforcing there. we don’t see recalls for Listeria ;positives and RTE is almost always held. So this is almost entirely all about E coli in Ground Beef. If we believe the CDC’s estimates thaat 76,000 people fall ill from E coli every year, and that 20% of those are from consuming ground beef and the rest from other sources, we have a conundrum. 20% of 76,000 is 15,200. How can they jprevent 25,000 if there are not that many people sickened from ground beef. Oh, by the way, all of those 40 plus recall notices contained the disclaimer “FSIS is not aware of any illnesses attrributed to this product”

  • jmunsell

    If mandatory test & hold has obvious benefits when FSIS collects samples for analysis at USDA labs, then mandatory test & hold should have equally beneficial aspects when plants collect the samples themselves. I’ve not seen any such comments from USDA or AMI stating the same. If mandatory test & hold is indeed beneficial, then it should be implemented for ALL testing. Would like everyone’s thoughts on this. John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    If mandatory test & hold has obvious benefits when FSIS collects samples for analysis at USDA labs, then mandatory test & hold should have equally beneficial aspects when plants collect the samples themselves. I’ve not seen any such comments from USDA or AMI stating the same. If mandatory test & hold is indeed beneficial, then it should be implemented for ALL testing. Would like everyone’s thoughts on this. John Munsell

  • Doc Mudd

    25,000 illnesses is Vilsack’s estimate, take it up with him:
    You may quibble over the numbers, you may gloss over them and de-humanize them as trivial ‘statistics’ but they represent real people impacted in one real fashion or another by lapses in food safety. Real people like you and I and our family members.
    So, when you are arguing to cut corners, to let sensible safety measures slide for one class of producer or another you are arguing away someone’s relative safety for your convenience and profit.
    We seem always to encounter resistance from the ‘little guys’ whenever they have anything to gain at someone else’s expense. One can safely count upon that in every instance, set your watch by it. That’s a damned cheesy way for anyone to make their fortune.

  • Minkpuppy

    Doc- What I find tiresome about you is your blanket accusations that all small processors don’t care about the consumer when it’s simply not true. Don’t lump them all into the same category–I know Amy Sipes well and can vouch that she has a top notch food safety program at her facility. She has a right to take offense at your comments as do I.
    You know nothing of the problems the small processors face yet you continue to judge them. I can speak with confidence of the processors I know both negatively and positively because I see them and work with them everyday. Most of the processors in this town take food safety very seriously and we’ve helped them get their programs up to snuff. I know who the bad guys are in this circuit and it’s a constant game of cat and mouse with them. Inevitably, compliance usually catches the bad actors down the road somewhere. Fortunately, there are very few here because over the years their rule-breaking eventually caught up to them and now they tow the line or are closed.
    I personally agree that mandatory test and hold is necessary. Most of the facilities already do it on their own, regardless of size. The risk is too great in most cases. The decision not to hold is not taken lightly. Many things factor into it and cost is only one aspect of it. Many in this circuit just do not have adequate freezer space to hold product longer than 24 hours. Test results can take 3 to 5 days. Many decide they’ll risk the recall, especially if they know that the ground beef has gone to one place and can be easily recovered. It’s when the product goes to one place who then sends it on to another and so on, that it becomes a huge mess.
    However, they should have known for some time that mandatory test and hold was coming. My co-worker says he’s going to have to fight for one of his facilities that doesn’t have freezer space but I’m tempted to tell him not to bother because the “not enough space” argument won’t hold water in this circuit. This city has at least 6 cold storage facilities that can hold test product for a few days and at least one of them would gladly take the money from the other 5 to provide that service. It certainly has to be cheaper than building a new freezer on property that is running out of room already. It’s definitely cheaper than losing your business entirely.
    I must be off to a work unit meeting about this very subject. Should be interesting.

  • Doc Mudd, my issue with you is that you are entirely anonymous. I, on the other hand, am completely upfront over who I am and what I do. Click my name. Or if that is too difficult for you then try this link http://johnscustommeats.com/Processing%20Services.htm Very Small plant who NEVER takes anyone’s safety lightly, let alone…have grubby profit making. So, yes. Yes, I take great offense to your obvious ignorance on the small independent meat processors across the US. We take food safety very seriously. Our livelihoods depend on it.
    You might also notice that “test & hold” is a policy that is already in place. You’ll see it on the link above. Has been in place for years. Not always easy, perhaps not always necessary but that’s how serious we are.
    This is a political play and has no real effect on current food safety. Vast majority of all of us already do this.

  • George Brown

    Doc Mudd, you refer to small plants as money grubbing and not caring about public safety. Lets be honest here, the real reason the large plants wish to make regulations that are onerous on small business is to drive them to extinction so that they can have every last scrap of available cash and as much of a monopoly as possible. A small business who ends up having a recall will likely not survive it. Any smart small businessman knows to keep their quality and safety at a maximum. Furthermore, why are you worried about your families safety? I’m sure you only buy from large companies that are safer in your mind. I am a meat inspector. I know where I prefer to buy.