WASHINGTON – The US Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has launched a virtual representative to supplement its help desk and provide continuous access to information in an expansion of its resources for small plants. The virtual representative allows users to communicate with technical experts from the help desk and receive up-to-date information on frequently asked questions.

"FSIS is committed to providing helpful and timely information to small plant operators across the country, who play an essential role in building strong local food economies," said Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety Al Almanza in a statement. "We anticipate that inspection program personnel and the regulated industry, including small and very small plant operators and the business partners who support them, will benefit most from this valuable resource."

More than 90 percent of 6,389 FSIS plants are considered small or very small and the small plant help desk provides information and technical assistance to over 2,000 callers a year. FSIS help desk employees are experienced subject matter experts in meat, poultry or processed egg facilities. The addition of the virtual representative to the help desk will allow users to receive information at all hours, seven days a week.

The new tool joins two other virtual representative services – askFSIS for policy related questions and Ask Karen for consumer food safety handling questions – that the FSIS already offers and has had success with.

In the past seven years, FSIS has instituted successful updates to the country’s food safety system. From 2009 to 2015, there’s been a drop in foodborne illnesses associated with meat, poultry and processed egg products.

Click here to visit the small plant representative.

Questions for the small plant help desk can be sent to [email protected] or you can call 1-877-FSIS-HELP (1-877-374-7435).