A new web-based label approval system that will streamline the agency’s review process for meat, poultry and egg product labels was introduced Monday by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Called the Label Submission Approval System (LSAS), the new approval system will make it possible for food manufacturers to submit label applications electronically, will flag application submission errors that could delay the approval process, and will allow users to track the progress of their submission.
”This new system will expedite and simplify the review process for meat, poultry and egg product labels,” said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety. “Reducing the review times for labels will enhance the agency’s ability to ensure that accurate information is applied to product labels and reaches consumers quickly.”
The “Leaders Conference” of the National Meat Association was briefed on the new web-based labeling system last week in Washington D.C. by Phil Derfler, FSIS deputy administration.
“Based on what we heard,” says Jeremy Russell, NMA’s director of communications and government, “I’d say we’re cautiously optimistic that it will streamline the process and increase efficiency.”
FSIS reviews labels on the products it regulates to ensure they are truthful and not misleading.
The LSAS is suppose to reduce the time and costs incurred by both the industry and the agency. Until the launch of LSAS, companies mailed or hand delivered paper applications to FSIS, and FSIS reviewed and corrected them before returning them in hard copy.
The agency receives 150 to 200 label submissions daily, and it can take more than three weeks for a label to be reviewed. The web-based system will make approved or corrected labels immediately available to companies, saving time and mailing costs.
The new system also will allow companies to store labels and make changes electronically, removing the need to print and re-submit modified labels for review to FSIS each time a change is made. Label submissions are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, and the agency will continue to review labels in the same manner using LSAS.
If a company chooses to use LSAS to submit a label for approval, the system will notify the company if an application is incomplete through an error message. The system assigns each label a tracking number so the progress of its review can be tracked online. The system also includes an option to first see if the label qualifies for a generic approval before proceeding with a submission (generic approval means the label does not have to be submitted to FSIS for review prior to use).
More information about LSAS, including instructions on accessing the system using Level 2 USDA e-authentication, a user’s guide, agency contact information, and frequently asked questions is available on FSIS’ website.
FSIS “strongly encourages” companies to consult the LSAS User’s Guide before attempting to submit their first label(s) through the new system. Webinars about LSAS will be scheduled and announced in coming weeks. The LSAS is another result of an on-going USDA review of existing program rules to determine whether any should be modified, streamlined, clarified, or repealed to improve access to USDA programs.
With the intent to minimize burdens on individuals, businesses and communities attempting to access programs, the review was directed by President Obama in Executive Order 13563, signed Jan. 18, 2011.
In the past two years, FSIS has announced several measures to safeguard the food supply, prevent foodborne illness and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat.
In a statement, FSIS said these initiatives support the three core principles developed by the President’s Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery. The actions include:
– Zero tolerance policy for six Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) serogroups. Raw ground beef, its components and tenderized steaks found to contain E. coli O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 or O145 will be prohibited from sale to consumers. USDA will launch a testing program to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers.
– Test and hold policy that USDA says will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products, should the policy become final, because products cannot be released into commerce until agency test results for dangerous contaminants are known.
– Labeling requirements that USDA says should provide better information to consumers about their food by requiring nutrition information for single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products and ground or chopped products.
– Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database about public health trends and food safety violations at the nearly 6,100 plants FSIS regulates.