United States Department of Agriculture
The Office of Food Safety oversees the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the agency within USDA responsible for ensuring the safety, wholesomeness, and correct labeling and packaging of meat, poultry, and egg products. FSIS operates under the authority of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act. FSIS sets standards for food safety and inspects and regulates all raw and processed meat and poultry products, and egg products sold in interstate commerce, including imported products. FSIS has implemented a strategy for change to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness attributable to meat, poultry, and egg products. The Office of Food Safety, headed by USDAs Under Secretary for Food Safety, provides oversight of the agency.
In FY 2001, FSIS inspected over 8.2 billion poultry, 140 million head of livestock, and 4.5 billion pounds of egg products (table 9-1).
The activities of FSIS include:
FSIS inspectors examine animals before and after slaughter, preventing diseased animals from entering the food supply and examining carcasses for visible defects that can affect safety and quality. Inspectors also test for the presence of harmful pathogens and drug and chemical residues.
In addition, about 250,000 different processed meat and poultry products fall under FSIS inspection. These include hams, sausages, soups, stews, pizzas, frozen dinners, and products containing 2 percent or more cooked poultry or at least 3 percent raw meat. In addition to inspecting these products during processing, FSIS evaluates and sets standards for food ingredients, additives, and compounds used to prepare and package meat and poultry products.
As part of the inspection process, FSIS tests for the presence of pathogens and toxins such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcal entertoxin in ready-to-eat another processed products. FSIS continues to have a zero tolerance for these pathogens in ready-to-eat and other processed products.
FSIS also tests for pathogens in some raw products. In 1994, USDA declared E.coliO157:H7 an adulterant in raw ground beef and established a monitoring program for the pathogen. As part of the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems final rule, issued in July 1996, FSIS for the first time set pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella that slaughter plants and plants producing raw ground products must meet. The final rule also requires meat and poultry slaughter plants to conduct microbial testing for generic E. coli to verify the adequacy of their process controls for the prevention of fecal contamination.
Imported meat and poultry are also subject to FSIS scrutiny. The agency reviews and monitors foreign inspection systems to ensure that they are equivalent to the U.S. system before those countries are allowed to export. When the products reach the United States, products are reinspected at 155 active import locations by inspection personnel.
Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point
The Pathogen Reduction/HACCP rule: (1) requires all meat and poultry plants to develop and implement written standard operating procedures for sanitation (SSOPs); (2) requires meat and poultry slaughter plants to conduct microbial testing for generic E.coli to verify the adequacy of their process controls for the prevention of fecal contamination; (3) requires all meat and poultry plants to develop and implement a system of preventive controls, known as HACCP, to improve the safety of their products; and (4) sets pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella that slaughter plants and plants producing raw ground products must meet.
The Pathogen Reduction/HACCP rule applies to over 6,500 federally inspected and 2,300 State-inspected slaughter and processing plants in the United States. Countries that export meat and poultry products to the United States must also meet the requirements of the final rule. Egg products are not covered by the final rule, but FSIS has developed a strategy that will include HACCP to improve the safety of eggs and egg products.
Implementation of HACCP in all plants has been smooth, and the new prevention-oriented meat and poultry inspection system continues to show improvement. With only minor fluctuations, Salmonella prevalences in all classes of products have decreased to levels below the baseline prevalence estimates determined prior to HACCP. The decrease in the prevalence of Salmonella in raw meat and poultry from 1998 to2001 is consistent with reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating a decline in human illnesses linked to Salmonella during the same time period. As industry has complied with the new pathogen reduction and HACCP requirements, FSIS is strengthening HACCP systems to more effectively protect consumers from unsafe meat and poultry (table 9-2 and table 9-3).
For more information on HACCP and compliance, visit the FSIS Web site at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov and access HACCP Implementation.
HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP)
HIMP is a pilot program that began in 1997 and is designed to test whether new government slaughter inspection procedures can be employed that improve food safety and increase consumer protection, and that leads to the more efficient and effective use of inspection resources and personnel. Only meat and poultry plants that slaughter exclusively young, healthy, uniform animalsmarket hogs, fed cattle, or young poultry (including turkeys)are eligible for the project. These animals comprise nearly 90 percent of animals slaughtered in inspected establishments. Eligible plants may volunteer to participate in the pilot program.
Under HIMP, changes are being made in the role of the slaughter inspector. Except for one inspector at the end of the line, inspectors are no longer tied to one point on the inspection line. Instead, inspectors are free to move around the plant and up and down the processing line to perform verification checks and observe operations wherever necessary. Currently, approximately 24establishments that slaughter young chickens, hogs, and turkeys are participating in the pilot project.
Under the project, FSIS has established performance standards for food safety and non-food safety defects, such as bruises, (also known as other consumer protections) that volunteer plants must meet. In order to meet these standards, plants are extending their HACCP systems to address the food safety conditions, and they are developing process control plans to address other consumer practices. Plants are responsible for identifying and removing meat and poultry carcasses that do not meet these standards.
The accomplishments of the new system must meet or exceed the accomplishments of the current system in order for FSIS to consider the new system to be successful. The project is being carried out through an open public process that allows all interested constituents the opportunity to provide input. Data collected in the project to date, by both an independent contractor and FSIS in-plant inspectors, show improvements in both food safety and other consumer protections. FSIS will continue to evaluate and make improvements to HIMP. Plants that are permitted to operate under HIMP will be held accountable for meeting the performance standards and all other regulatory requirements.
Activities Related to Homeland Security
With a strong food safety infrastructure already in place, USDA has been able to focus on fortifying existing programs and improving lines of communication both internally and externally through cooperation with industry, consumers, another government agencies.
FSIS coordinates its efforts with several other agencies committed to preventing biosecurity threats. FSIS works closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as with State and local health agencies to share information about illnesses.
E. coli O157:H7
A risk assessment for E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef was completed in September 2001 and submitted to the National Academy of Sciences for peer review. The risk assessment estimates the risks of foodborne illness from the pathogen under current baseline manufacturing conditions and will be revised in response to comments from the peer review. When the review is completed, the agency will use the risk assessment to determine whether changes in its policies on E. coliO157:H7 are needed.
FSIS consumer education programs specifically target pregnant women and newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems caused by cancer treatments, AIDS, diabetes, kidney disease, etc., who are all at risk for becoming seriously ill from eating foods that contain Listeria monocytogenes.
On January 18, 2001, FDA and FSIS released a draft risk assessment of the potential relative risk of listeriosis from eating certain ready-to-eat foods, as well as an action plan designed to reduce the risk of foodborne illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes.
FSIS also has the following four longer-term initiatives:
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
In1998, USDA asked the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis to evaluate the robustness of U.S. measures to prevent the spread of BSE or mad cow disease to animals and humans if it were to arise in this country.
Results of this landmark 3-year study showed that the risk of BSE occurring in the United States is extremely low. The report noted that early protection systems put into place by the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been largely responsible for keeping BSE out of the United States and would prevent it from spreading if it ever did enter the country.
Even so, in November 2001, the Under Secretary for Food Safety announced a series of actions the USDA would take, in cooperation with HHS, to strengthen its BSE prevention programs and maintain the Governments vigilance against the disease.
A complete copy of the Harvard Report can be obtained from USDAs official Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/topics/bse.htm. For more information about BSE, also visit http://www.usda.gov or http//:www.hhs.gov
FoodNet and PulseNet
The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) is a part of the CDC Emerging Infections Program. FSIS worked in conjunction with CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and public health laboratories in several States to establish FoodNet in 1995.
FoodNet includes active surveillance for diseases caused by foodborne pathogens, case-control studies to identify risk factors for acquiring foodborne illness, and surveys to assess medical and laboratory practices related to the diagnosis of food borne illness. The baseline and annual data collected are being used to help determine the effectiveness of the Pathogen Reduction; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points rule and other regulatory actions as well as public education efforts in decreasing the number of cases of major bacterial food borne disease in the United States each year.
In FY 2001, FSIS completed the sixth full year of an agreement with the CDC to conduct active population-based surveillance for food borne diseases (Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, Yersinia, Crytosporidium and Cyclospora) in Minnesota, Oregon, Connecticut, Georgia, and selected counties in California, Maryland, New York, Colorado, and Tennessee (total population: 30 million). This multi-year study is providing much- needed data regarding the burden of food borne illness in the United States.
PulseNet is a national computer network of public health laboratories that helps to rapidly identify and control outbreaks of food borne illness. The laboratories perform DNA fingerprinting on bacteria that may be food borne and the network permits rapid comparison of the fingerprint patterns through an electronic database at the CDC. PulseNet is an early warning system that links seemingly sporadic human illnesses together and, as a result, more outbreaks can be recognized, especially those that involve many States.
FoodNet and PulseNet are two examples of Federal and State agencies working together to accomplish the agencys public health goals of protecting the public and the meat and poultry supply through improving the tracking of food borne illnesses and outbreaks.
Consumer and Food Safety Education
Consumer education programs focus on key food safety messages to the general public and special high-risk groups that face increased risks from food borne illnessthe very young, the elderly, pregnant women, people who have chronic diseases, and people with compromised immune systems. The agency reaches diverse audiences through the media, information multipliers such as teachers, Extension and health educators, the FSIS Web site, printed materials, videos, USDAs Meat and Poultry Hotline, the internationally distributed newsletter, The Food Safety Educator, and other presentations and exhibits. FSIS produces public service announcements, news features, and partners with other government agencies, industry, and consumer associations on food safety projects.
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
In September 2001, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline initiated a 3-month Spanish language outreach pilot for the Latino community to provide consumers with bilingual service. The pilot outreach efforts were focused in Miami, FL, San Diego, CA, and Newark, NJ.
Callers may speak with a food safety specialistin English or Spanishfrom10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Eastern time on weekdays year round by dialing the nationwide toll-free number 1-800-535-4555 or in the Washington, DC area, (202) 720-3333. The toll-free number for the hearing impaired (TTY) is1-800-256-7072. An extensive menu of recorded food safety messages in English and Spanish may be heard 24 hours a day. The Hotline can also now be reached bye-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Food Thermometer Education
Partnership for Food Safety Education and Fight
The campaign is represented by the character BAC! (bacteria), the invisible enemy who tries his best to spread contamination wherever he goes. By giving foodborne bacteria a personality, BAC! makes the learning process more meaningful and memorable for consumers of all ages.
For more information about the Partnership for Food Safety Education and Fight BAC!®, visit http://www.fightbac.org/
Listeria monocytogenes Consumer Outreach
The National Food Safety Information Network
National Food Safety Education MonthSM (NFSEM)
FSIS Web Site
Food Service Education
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