Ahead of the State of the Union, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was out with its own “key achievements” for 2022 that it said “further protected public health through food safety; created more and better market opportunities; and advanced racial justice, equity, and opportunity.”
Reducing Illnesses Linked to Salmonella in Poultry
After announcing it would reevaluate its approach to controlling Salmonella in poultry last year, FSIS says it invested in data gathering and outreach to develop a proposed regulatory framework to reduce Salmonella infections linked to poultry products.
“As a public health regulatory agency, it is our responsibility to improve our current regulations and policies to more effectively reduce these illnesses,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Emilio Esteban. “This past year we continued to move towards strengthening our policy for poultry products linked to Salmonella.”
In 2022, in addition to proposing a new framework, FSIS announced its intention to declare Salmonella an adulterant in not ready-to-eat breaded and stuffed chicken products; developed a risk profile and two quantitative risk assessments; sought guidance from one of the agency’s advisory committees; and held a public meeting to discuss the proposed strategy and take comments from the public. These efforts aim to move the agency closer to achieving a reduction in foodborne illnesses and lay the groundwork for more developments in 2023 as FSIS continues its efforts to seek stakeholder feedback to inform planned rulemaking.
Supporting Small and Very Small Establishments
USDA claims to be “committed to expanding processing capacity and building a more resilient supply chain through supporting independent small and very small meat and poultry establishments.” FSIS has multiple programs in place to provide resources for these smaller plants, such as overtime fee reductions, plant outreach, and guidance materials.
Since July 2021, FSIS reports it has been implementing a provision of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) to reduce overtime and holiday inspection fees for small establishments by 30 percent and very small establishments by 75 percent. Since its enactment, FSIS has issued credits and refunds to more than 2,800 small and very small establishments, providing more than $33 million in savings. FSIS will continue to offer the reduced fees until the funds are exhausted.
Events such as small plant roundtables foster open communication with these plants and help FSIS identify unique barriers and challenges faced by small establishments. In 2022, FSIS held seven total small plant roundtables and listening sessions — in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, reaching approximately 450 participants with both virtual and in-person attendance. FSIS conducts these events in areas with large numbers of small and very small establishments.
The agency also looks for opportunities to partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1890 institutions, and tribal colleges in hosting these roundtables. In June, FSIS visited three tribal nations and witnessed diverse approaches to raising and harvesting bison. The Osage Nation of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Tribe, Makoce Agriculture Development on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the InterTribal Buffalo Council hosted these engagements as opportunities for USDA to learn from and better understand tribal interests.
Product of USA Labeling Survey
FSIS began its comprehensive review of the “Product of USA” voluntary labeling claim in July 2021. In February 2022, FSIS commissioned a survey to analyze U.S. consumers’ understanding of the labeling claim. The results will inform planned rulemaking on this topic to ensure that the “Product of USA” label is truthful and not misleading.
Fostering Diversity, Equity, and Opportunity
FSIS depends on attracting and retaining a qualiﬁed and engaged workforce that represents diversity across the United States. Approximately 90 percent of the agency’s workforce is dedicated frontline personnel, including those in priority recruitment positions — food inspectors, consumer safety inspectors, and public health veterinarians. In 2022, the agency continued to offer recruitment incentives to inspection personnel and expanded recruitment methods by prioritizing equity, coordinating local hiring events, and implementing process improvements. The result was shorter times to hire, growing programs to support veterans and professionals with disabilities, and the use of new talent-management platforms to advertise open positions and broaden applicant pools. Talent management tools have allowed FSIS to reach over 10 million students/graduates and nearly 2,000 schools and alumni associations, including about one-third of all Minority Serving Institutions.
State Inspection Programs
State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs are an integral part of the nation’s food safety system; they help prevent supply chain bottlenecks within a state, ensuring American families have access to safe food. States may operate their own MPI programs under a cooperative agreement with FSIS through which they must enforce requirements “at least equal to” those imposed under the agency’s governing acts.
The program is especially helpful to small meat and poultry processors in building their local and state marketplaces. Products produced under state inspection programs are limited to intrastate commerce unless a state opts into an additional program, the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Program. In 2022, Arkansas and Oregon joined the state MPI program, and FSIS finalized a CIS agreement with Montana. At the close of the year, 29 state inspection programs were operating as well as a total number of 10 states participating in the CIS program.
Collaboration with Other Agencies and Public Health Partners
FSIS collaborates with a multitude of partners to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of food safety outcomes. Each year, FSIS builds on successes from existing partnerships and initiates new relationships with food safety regulators and organizations to help meet its public health goals.
In 2022, FSIS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed a new memorandum of understanding to enhance data sharing and coordinating critically important public health activities. FSIS also updated its memorandum of understanding agreements with the Food and Drug Administration — to improve coordination on regulatory efforts with dual jurisdiction establishments—as well as with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding worker safety.
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