Sandwich_406x250Which foods the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates and which foods the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates are not easy questions to answer. One oft-repeated example used to demonstrate the complexities is that cheese pizza falls under the jurisdiction of FDA, but a pizza topped with pepperoni is under USDA’s jurisdiction. Another example is that USDA regulates open-face sandwiches with meat on them. But put the top of the bun on there, and it becomes FDA’s responsibility. Come February 2016, USDA will be giving closed-face sandwiches a little attention. Earlier this week, USDA announced a new Export Verification Program for sandwiches destined for Canada. It entails two types of testing to make sure manufacturers are controlling the risk of Listeria and Salmonella contamination, as well as Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspections to verify the sandwiches are produced under a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan. In February 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) audited the U.S. food safety system for meat and poultry products intended for export to Canada. In its report, “they identified that these products were being certified by FSIS to come to Canada, but they observed that FSIS was not verifying the same requirements for just the meat product,” said Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator for FSIS’ Office of Policy and Program Development. CFIA notified FSIS that it requires these products to be produced according to HACCP plans and Listeria controls. Ready-to-eat meat products going to Canada are ensured to meet the testing and HACCP requirements, but because closed-face sandwiches fall outside the jurisdiction of FSIS, and FDA isn’t authorized to conduct the same inspections as FSIS, the products weren’t given the same attention. That’s not to say that there were no inspections. All along, the companies have “been paying for FSIS inspection that was for sanitation, but they were not paying for an FSIS inspection program that included verification of HACCP requirements and the same requirements that we have for other ready-to-eat meat products,” Engeljohn explained. The agency’s decision to subject closed-face sandwiches to those requirements within the voluntary program will “make it essentially the same as any other meat product,” he added. Engeljohn emphasized that the change is “not because [Canada] identified a risk or they found Listeria in product or they had concerns about it. It’s just that they wanted any product that contained meat to be treated the same as FSIS does other ready-to-eat meat products.” The program will be implemented on Feb. 1, 2016, and USDA invites the public to comment on:

  • The timetable for implementation of this program, including readiness to participate in the program’s pathogen testing and HACCP verification, and business and trade interests affected by compliance or non-compliance with the program;
  • How the proposed programs can be implemented operationally to avoid disruption of trade or business activities; and,
  • Any other operational issues that commenters need to have explained.

FSIS will clarify any issues or make adjustments to the implementation date of the program in a Constituent Update. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)