The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is trying to facilitate education and collaboration regarding pre-harvest food safety interventions. At a recent agency conference focused on the issue, FSIS noted a number of ways it is working on boosting pre-harvest food safety:

– In May 2010, FSIS issued informational guidance to beef slaughter establishments on pre-harvest management controls for reducing E. coli O157:H7 shedding in beef cattle. The guidance described several pre-harvest interventions and management practices that are the subject of research and the state of the findings about these practices. It also recommended that slaughter establishments receive their cattle from beef producers that implement one or more documented pre-harvest management practices to reduce fecal shedding, and it encouraged pre-harvest interventions as the first control steps in an integrated beef products safety system. 

– In September 2010, FSIS solicited input from the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) on pre-harvest Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) controls for Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, antimicrobial-resistant pathogens, and chemical residues. The information gleaned from NACMPI will be used by FSIS and its public health partner agencies in developing guidance for reducing the prevalence of these pathogens in regulated products.

– In September 2011, FSIS solicited additional input from NACMPI on developing effective policies and collaborative steps to promote public health, specifically on the pre-harvest topic of Salmonella-specific controls around food safety hazards that can occur before entry into the official establishment. The committee recommended, among other things, that FSIS should hold public meetings with stakeholders including the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and develop pre-harvest best practices and compliance guidelines for livestock and poultry producers. FSIS should also incorporate the information about the effectiveness of the interventions they have investigated. Further, FSIS should determine whether it can take a leadership role in tracking new technologies for pre-harvest (interventions) that are currently moving through the regulatory process and on a quarterly basis report their movement and what FSIS is doing with other agencies to move them forward.

USDA also pointed to programs at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Service (VS), including data collection and the approval of a vaccine for cattle to reduce the occurrence of E. coli O157:H7, and the Agricultural Research Service, especially the ARS Food Safety National Program, which supports research that looks at the entire food safety system from farm to fork.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture also plays a key part on the pre-harvest initiative, making competitive grants available universities and labs conducting cutting-edge food safety research, some of which looks at pre-harvest. From 2005 to 2010 NIFA provided approximately $26 million to fund research projects and a broad variety of topics — from mastitis in dairy production to the survival of pathogens in manure and biosolids.