USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is not usually thought of as a quick-moving policy shop. But, in the past two days, the agency has posted new guidelines for poultry processors to better prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw products during slaughter and processing and new record-keeping requirements for beef producers to make it easier and quicker to track foodborne illnesses to their source. On poultry, here’s what USDA Deputy Under Secretary Al Almanza said: “These guidelines take into account the latest science and practical considerations, including lessons learned from foodborne illness outbreaks in the last several years, to assist establishments in producing safer food. This new guide is one piece of FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan and our effort to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributed to meat and poultry products by 25 percent in order to meet the nation’s Healthy People 2020 goals. By following the newer guidelines, poultry facilities can help us reach this important public health target.” beefchicken_406x250Almanza said the new guidelines make science-based suggestions for interventions that poultry companies can take on the farm (known as pre-harvest), sanitary dressing procedures, further processing practices, antimicrobial interventions, and other management practices. These prevention and control measures represent the best practice recommendations of FSIS based on scientific and practical considerations. This guidance is particularly important in light of Salmonella outbreaks involving poultry products. On beef, Almanza said: “This is a common-sense step that can prevent foodborne illness and increase consumer confidence when they purchase ground beef. In the event that unsafe product does make it into commerce, these new procedures will give us the information we need to act much more effectively to keep families across the country safe.” He said that the changes will improve the agency’s ability to determine the source of foodborne illnesses linked to ground beef, stopping foodborne illness outbreaks sooner when they occur.  Based on lessons learned from previous outbreak investigations, the FSIS changes will require that all makers of raw ground beef products keep adequate records of the source material so that the agency can quickly work with the suppliers to recall contaminated product. The agency stated that outbreak investigations can be hindered when retail stores produce ground beef by mixing product from various sources but fail to keep clear records that would allow investigators to determine which supplier produced the unsafe product. This new requirement complements expedited traceback and traceforward procedures announced in August 2014 that enhance the agency’s ability to quickly and broadly investigate food safety breakdowns in the event of an outbreak connected to ground beef. While industry groups, such as the North American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council, have not commented on the changes, one of the agency’s most frequent critics has commented on the changes to the poultry guidelines. “As a new wave of food-borne illnesses affects the nation, families around the country are gathering for the holidays and are at risk of falling seriously ill from mishandled poultry,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “Salmonella is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness and is responsible for more hospitalizations and deaths than any other foodborne pathogen,” she added. “While the new guidelines issued by the USDA are an important step, the USDA should declare Salmonella an adulterant as part of their work to protect American consumers from foodborne public health threats. American consumers are counting on the USDA to use the authority it has to prevent unnecessary illnesses and deaths.” Here’s more from FSIS on both policy changes: SALMONELLA AND CAMPYLOBACTER CONTROLS FSIS is seeking comment on the guidelines, which were last updated in 2010. A downloadable version of the compliance guidance is available here. The guidelines are also posted at the Federal eRulemaking Portal here, where comments can be submitted. Comments may also be submitted by mail addressed to: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Patriots Plaza 3, 1400 Independence Ave. S.W., Mailstop 3782, Room 8-163A, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700. FSIS will accept comments 60 days from the date of the guidance publishing in the Federal Register. While rates of foodborne illness overall have fallen over the course of this century, Salmonella infection rates have remained relatively stagnant, prompting FSIS to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to addressing the pathogen in meat and poultry products. The guidance, along with development of new performance standards for raw chicken breasts, legs and wings, as well as for ground and other comminuted chicken and turkey products, unveiled in January, are a major step in FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan. FSIS’ science-based risk assessment estimates that implementation of the new performance standards will lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually. BEEF TRACKING Under the new final rule, FSIS is amending its record-keeping regulations to require that all official establishments and retail stores that grind raw beef products maintain the following records: the establishment numbers of establishments supplying material used to prepare each lot of raw ground beef product, all supplier lot numbers and production dates, the names of the supplied materials (including beef components and any materials carried over from one production lot to the next), the date and time each lot of raw ground beef product is produced, and the date and time when grinding equipment and other related food-contact surfaces are cleaned and sanitized. These requirements also apply to raw beef products that are ground at an individual customer’s request when new source materials are used. “The traceback mechanism provided for in this final rule will facilitate recall efforts that could stop outbreaks and prevent additional foodborne illnesses,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm. “USDA is committed to providing resources and assistance to makers of ground beef to ensure they can be a part of this important and essential new public health measure.” Retail stores regularly produce raw ground beef for consumer sales by mixing cuts of beef from various sources. A 2011 Salmonella outbreak in Maine and parts of the northeastern region of the U.S. resulted in illnesses that could have been prevented if establishments had kept records of suppliers on file. As a result of this outbreak, on July 22, 2014, FSIS published a proposed rule (79 FR 42464) to require official establishments and retail stores to maintain records of their suppliers and source materials received. After receiving and considering comments, FSIS is announcing this final record-keeping rule that ensures that public health officials have the ability to quickly search records to identify the exact source of the raw beef products during outbreak investigations. The final rule can be viewed here.

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