NMA Convention Report: USDA addresses food safety

by Joel Crews
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TUCSON, Ariz. – The rising rate of recalls attributed to ingredient issues and undeclared allergens is becoming a bigger challenge for meat processors. During a Feb. 16 webinar at the National Meat Association’s Annual Convention, Jeff Canavan, deputy director with the US Department of Agriculture’s labeling and program delivery division, affirmed that the total number of recalls reported to the Food Safety and Inspection Service was 14 in 2009; 18 in 2010; and 31 through October of 2011.

The 2011 recalls represented an “all-time-high.” Of those, undeclared allergens were the reason for 13, 18 and 31 of the recalls, respectively.

Among the causes for the recalls, most of which were triggered by findings from inspectors, are that a chemical or allergen food-safety hazard wasn’t addressed in a facility’s hazard analysis; the establishment failed to support the decision in the hazard analysis; or the hazard analysis has not been reassessed. The other root cause can be that controls to mitigate the hazard haven’t been implemented.

The “Big Eight” allergens most often, but not always implicated in recalls include: wheat, crustacean shellfish, eggs, milk, fish, peanuts, tree nuts and soybeans.

Canavan said the responsibility of establishments when it comes to undeclared allergens is to identify, prevent and declare allergens. Identifying allergens applies to all ingredients used in a product before assembling the product is required. Preventing allergens includes addressing risks to equipment, using SSOPs, HACCP plans and using allergen control plans. Declaring is specific to labeling procedures. “The label must be accurate, even if using generic terms,” he said.

Canavan also displayed a web-based flowchart developed for allergen risk evaluation and labeling, which can be useful to processors deciding if their labeling is in compliance with USDA regulations.

Additional questions, he said, could be facilitated by e-mailing the agency at: askfsis.custhelp.com.

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