On May 2, 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced a series of prevention-based policy measures that it believes will better protect consumers from foodborne illness in meat and poultry products.
The USDA states that the purpose of these new regulations is to better allow both manufacturers and the USDA to:
(1) trace contaminated food materials in the supply chain;
(2) react more quickly to contamination; and
(3) establish effective food safety systems.
The first measure will allow the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”) to speed up the process for tracking E. coli O157:H7 in the nation’s food supply. Currently, after an initial report of E. coli, USDA officials are required to wait for additional confirmation before they can begin an investigation. These new measures will now allow FSIS to initiate its investigation after the first indication of a positive test and move quickly to identify the source of the contaminated product and any processors who may have received contaminated product. Once the source is properly identified, FSIS can issue instructions for minimizing consumer cases of foodborne illness accordingly.
The second key measure announced by the USDA is the implementation of three provisions included in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. These provisions will now require food establishments to:
(1) prepare and maintain recall procedures on site;
(2) notify FSIS within 24 hours that a meat or poultry product which could harm consumers has been shipped into commerce; and
(3) document each reassessment of their hazard control and critical control point (HACCP) system food safety plans.
In addition, USDA will make publicly available 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 food borne illness. The guidelines will be available on the USDA website.
Proactive compliance with food safety standards, such as these recent measures enacted by USDA is of paramount importance to any company in the food industry. We advise our clients that such a proactive approach is essential to minimize risk, protect the company’s brand name, and most importantly, to protect the customer. As such, all food manufacturers, suppliers and processors should, as soon as possible, ensure that their plants are in compliance with the new USDA measures, particularly with respect to reporting potential contamination and documenting any changes to a HACCP plan. Furthermore, companies should preemptively review the HAACP plan guidelines released by USDA to confirm that their food safety systems are adequate and in compliance with federal laws. The USDA expects the new regulations to go into effect in July, which just happens to coincide with the peak grilling season in the United States.