NAMP conference begins with food-safety focus

by Bryan Salvage
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ. – Food-safety issues that will affect the US meat businesses in 2011 was the focus of the Oct. 28 morning general session on the first day of the three-day North American Meat Processors Association’s Outlook Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dan Engeljohn, assistant administrator in the Food Safety and Inspection Service policy office, highlighted improvements FSIS has seen in controlling most pathogens, but singled out Salmonella as an ongoing concern and one that would receive more attention in 2011. “Multidrug-resistant Salmonella was a key factor in the agency’s concern,” he said.

The audience also received an update on some FSIS plans for 2011. “Look for a report on the industry’s adoption of Functional Food Defense plans by Nov. 15,” he said, “and a HACCP Validation Guidance draft should be issued early next year.”

The agency’s intention to publish new regulations for labeling non-intact products has a longer time frame – and is a ‘far horizon’ issue, he said. “It will go through the public comment process,” he added. “Look for something at the end of calendar year 2011.”

FSIS plans to move forward on non O157 STECs, but didn’t see any changes for intact products, Engeljohn said. The agency is working to develop reliable test methodologies for the six STECs of primary concern — four of six have been developed so far.

Providing attendees with a ‘Tour of Washington’ was Dennis Johnson, attorney at the Washington law firm Olsson Frank & Weeda. “There is no science in Washington unless it’s modified with the word ‘political’,” he warned. Johnson said he believes a new food-safety bill — a compromise between the House and Senate versions — would be passed. He also applauded the appointment of Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as the new Under Secretary for Food Safety, calling it a return to the “high standards” of Dr. Murano.

Addressing the increasing importance of Salmonella, Johnson said: “The agency [FSIS] will determine if there is an association between animal production practices and anti-microbial resistance.”

“Pre-harvest intervention is the Holy Grail of food safety,” he said quoting Dr. Hagen, and he added there’s a strong indication FSIS will seek to extend its influence to the farm level to the extent that it influences what comes into the laughter facilities.

Emerging STEC’s and what to expect was addressed by Dr. James Marsden, NAMP Senior Science Advisor, Regent’s Distinguished Professor of Meat Science, Kansas State University. “The industry needs to get in front of this issue,” he said. “Don’t let the FSIS be the driver!”

Dr. Marsden also pointed to a comment by Dr. Hagen who said, “Our policies need to evolve to address a broader range of those public health issues, regardless of O157.”

“Our research needs include the development of carcass pasteurization and verifying the effectiveness of our current interventions in controlling [non O157) STEC’s,” he added.

During a question-and-answer session, two of the most-interesting statements came from Dr. Engeljohn. Acknowledging the industry had declared food safety to be a non-competitive issue, he said, “You can still use marketing to ‘sell’ the benefits of your product. Once you reach a 5-log reduction, you can apply for a claim and use it.”
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