USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Monday issued a 19-page draft of guidelines to help small and very small meat and poultry manufacturers reduce bacterial contamination in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.

RTE foods are items that generally are not cooked before eating.

In a news release, FSIS said the draft guidelines are not new requirements for the meat and poultry industry, but intended to assist small-scale manufacturers in meeting what already are FSIS regulations.  Several illness-related events in 2010 prompted the improved guidelines, according to FSIS. 

Those incidents included outbreaks involving salami products coated with contaminated pepper, recalls involving hydrolyzed vegetable protein, as well as problems with taquitos and quesadillas.

Al Almanza, administrator of FSIS, said the new draft spells out FSIS´s recommended best practices: “Our goal is to help industry apply some of the recent lessons we have learned so they can prevent future problems, resulting in safer ready-to-eat food for consumers.”

In some of the 2010 contamination problems, FSIS said pathogens were introduced to products after they had undergone processing. The draft compliance guide illustrates measures to help prevent contamination in similar situations, such as the application of a spice or sauce to products after cooking or curing.

Public comments are being sought over the next 60 days to improve the draft document.  FSIS will then update the guidance in response to suggestions. Comments may be submitted through or by mail: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS Room 2-217, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Mailstop 5474, Beltsville, MD 20705-05474.