The U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon withhold the stamp of inspection until test samples come back negative, an agency official announced at the National Meat Association’s conference in Bellevue, Washington yesterday.

Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator of the Office of Field Operations for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the agency will issue a Federal Register notice on the matter within the next two to three months.

Petersen told Meatingplace USDA will not solicit comments on the new rules.

ground-beef13-featured.jpgAccording to Meatingplace, “Meat processors will be able to move the product–even as far as to a customer’s loading dock–but the shipment cannot be completed, the product cannot leave the processor’s control or be handed over to the buyer until the test results are confirmed.”

The new rule will apply to pathogens the agency defines as adulterants.

As Meatingplace noted yesterday, the practice of waiting for confirmation of test results, also known as “test and hold,” is a widespread industry practice.

The American Meat Institute has long urged the industry to adopt test and hold policies. In October 2009, Patrick Boyle, president of AMI, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking that the agency mandate test and hold. Boyle noted in the letter that more than 80 percent of the recalls due to of E. coli O157:H7 and all recalls due to the presence of Listeria monocytogenes during 2009 could have been prevented if tested products had been held.

Boyle lauded USDA’s announcement yesterday, “We are pleased that USDA has responded affirmatively to AMI’s petition,” he said in a statement. “While test and hold has become a widespread practice voluntarily, making the procedure mandatory will prevent recalls, further enhance safety and maintain consumer confidence.”