The USDA announced new regulations Wednesday that were required to draft under the 2008 farm bill. The rules includes speeding up the tracing of E. Coli in meats. The Agency will take comments on the new E. coli plan for 60 days. It is expected to go into effect in July. That leaves meat producers and distributors only 90 days to review the rules, comment and begin making changes to comply.
The USDA also announced new regulations that require meat and poultry companies to prepare recall procedures and notify USDA within 24 hours that a potentially contaminated meat or poultry product has been shipped. In addition, the agency will offer new guidance to meat and poultry plants on how to make sure their food safety systems are effective in preventing foodborne illness.
More from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:
The policy measures include the following:
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) intends to implement new traceback measures in order to control pathogens earlier and prevent them from triggering foodborne illnesses and outbreaks. FSIS is proposing to launch traceback investigations earlier and identify additional potentially contaminated product when the Agency finds E. coli O157:H7 through its routine sampling program. When FSIS receives an indication of contamination through presumptive positive test results for E. coli, the Agency will move quickly to identify the supplier of the product and any processors who received contaminated product from the supplier, once confirmation is received. This proposed change in policy gives FSIS the opportunity to better prevent contaminated product from reaching consumers. Learn more about the traceback proposed change in policy.
FSIS is implementing three provisions included in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill). The new regulations, published as a Final Rule and directed by Congress, require establishments to prepare and maintain recall procedures, to notify FSIS within 24 hours that a meat or poultry product that could harm consumers has been shipped into commerce, and to document each reassessment of their hazard control and critical control point (HACCP) system food safety plans. Learn more about the Farm Bill provisions.
FSIS is announcing the availability of guidance to plants on the steps that are necessary to establish that their HACCP food safety systems will work as designed to control the food safety hazards that they confront. This process, called “validation,” enables companies to ensure that their food safety systems are effective for preventing foodborne illness. This notice announces that the draft guidance document is available for comment. Learn more about HACCP validation draft guidance.
In the past two years, FSIS has announced several measures to safeguard the food supply, prevent foodborne illness, and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. These initiatives support the three core principles developed by the President’s Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery. Some of these actions include:
- Performance standards for poultry establishments for continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens. After two years of enforcing the new standards, FSIS estimates that approximately 5,000 illnesses will be prevented each year under the new Campylobacterstandards, and approximately 20,000 illnesses will be prevented under the revised Salmonella standards each year.
- Zero tolerance policy for six Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) serogroups. Raw ground beef, its components, and tenderized steaks found to contain E. coli O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 or O145 will be prohibited from sale to consumers. USDA will launch a testing program to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers.
- Test and hold policy that will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products, should the policy become final, because products cannot be released into commerce until Agency test results for dangerous contaminants are known.
- Labeling requirements that provide better information to consumers about their food by requiring nutrition information for single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products and ground or chopped products.
- Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database about public health trends and food safety violations at the nearly 6,100 plants FSIS regulates.
More from the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON — The government plans to speed up the process for tracking E. coli in meat, a move that will help authorities more quickly find the source of bacteria outbreaks and hasten food recalls.
The new Agriculture Department program announced Wednesday would begin tracing the source of potentially contaminated ground beef as soon as there is an initial positive test.
Current procedures require USDA officials to wait until additional testing confirms E. coli before starting their investigation. Under the new process, government officials could trace the source of E. coli 24 to 48 hours sooner.
“The additional safeguards we are announcing today will improve our ability to prevent foodborne illness by strengthening our food safety infrastructure,” said Elisabeth Hagen, the department’s under secretary for food safety.
Once E. coli is identified, the USDA can immediately begin efforts to link products, companies and the pathogen to the source supplier and any other processors that received the contaminated meat.
Thousands of people are sickened each year by E. coli, a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to illness which can in rare cases be fatal.
About 12,000 to 13,000 samples of ground beef and beef trimmings are tested for E. coli every year. The earlier tracking procedure will begin when the USDA finds the common O157:H7 strain of the E. coli pathogen, which causes the most severe illnesses.
Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center For Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, called the announcement a “very positive step.”
“This will allow them to hopefully reduce the burden of illness that can be linked to these outbreaks,” she said.
DeWaal’s group has called on USDA to go even further and offer similar protections against salmonella strains that are resistant to antibiotics.
The USDA will take comments on the new E. coli plan for 60 days. It is expected to go into effect in July, in time for the peak of summer grilling season.
While testing is now limited to the single E. coli strain, the USDA will begin expanding testing in the future for six other strains of the bacteria that are causing increasing numbers of infections.
Safety experts advise consumers to safely prepare raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees.
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