Seven years in the making, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is about to begin quarterly releases of establishment-specific data for inspection and enforcement actions as well as sampling and testing results. “FSIS’ food safety inspectors collect vast amounts of data at food producing facilities every day, which we analyze on an ongoing basis to detect emerging public health risks and create policies to prevent foodborne illness,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza in a news release. “Consumers want more information about the foods they are purchasing, and sharing these details can give better insight into food production and inspection, and help them make informed purchasing decisions.” FSIS employs about 7,500 food safety inspectors who work in more than 6,000 meat, poultry and processed egg facilities located throughout the nation and at 120 ports of entry every day. Federal reports show the agency has reduced foodborne illnesses associated with FSIS-regulated products by 12 percent by adopting a data-driven approach to identifying and preventing food safety concerns. The establishment-specific data sets will be published on data.gov., the U.S. government’s open data portal. The FSIS establishment-specific plan was created during the past seven years in response to the Obama Administration’s “Open Government Plan.” Until this move to the government’s open data portal, FSIS has restricted its release of establishment-specific information to limited occasions. It has, for example, posted on its website the names of young chicken (broiler) establishments that fall into Category 3 based on their Salmonella test results as they relate to the agency’s performance standards. FSIS also posts on its website official enforcement actions the it has taken against establishments that have been found in violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. And FSIS has released large volumes of disaggregated establishment-specific data in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. FSIS maintains an FOIA office and has a website that provides information to requestors. This site contains information on how to submit requests, annual reports on the number and type of requests received, as well as a “Reading Room” with information on frequently-requested FOIA records that are of general interest to the public. However, agency officials have said the process of responding to FOIA requests is both “time-consuming and “labor-intensive” for FSIS, and often expensive for requestors. Until now, however, the agency did not routinely share disaggregated, establishment-specific data with the public. “The plan is another step toward better engagement with our stakeholders and they will not have quality information on an ongoing basis,” Almanza said in the news release. The quarterly data sets will show:
- results for Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Salmonella in raw, not intact beef products;
- results from Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and young turkeys, communed poultry, and chicken parts;
- routine chemical residue testing data in meat and poultry products; and
- advocated meat recovery testing data.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)