A new rule coming from the US Dept. of Agriculture informs the meat and poultry processing industry what to do to ensure that products donated to non-profit and charitable organizations are safe for consumers – despite the fact the products may not be branded correctly or that they may be considered economically adulterated, in the opinion of the government inspection agency.

The goal of this recently issued notice by the Food Safety and Inspection Service is to make sure official USDA establishments and in-commerce businesses maintain sufficient controls over their donations and records about what they’re donating so there will be no questions about food safety or other FSIS requirements. These rules are to be carried out by meat and poultry inspectors at official USDA plants and establishments, as well as Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit investigators who visit in-commerce businesses.

The new requirement has been put out by FSIS because the food-inspection agency has had some concerns about the time necessary to apply for and receive temporary label approval plus the labor necessary in applying a “Not for Sale” statement to each container. The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) allow meat and poultry products that are safe, wholesome and can be used as human food to be donated.

FSIS has evaluated alternatives to facilitate the movement of donated foods in a way that will make sure food safety and policy concerns underlying labeling requirements are met. For example, misbranded product that can be donated includes product labeled with an incorrect net weight. Economically adulterated products could include poultry with added water that exceeds the maximum percentage of added water under USDA rules. It’s considered economically adulterated because the added water increases the product’s net weight and makes it appear to be of a greater value, but that doesn’t mean it’s not safe to eat.

FSIS allows products to be donated by meat and poultry processors without having to obtain temporary label approval from the agency’s Labeling and Program Delivery Staff (LPDS), except when the meat or poultry product is misbranded because it contains unlabeled ingredients of public health concern. These must have temporary label approval and “Not for Sale” statements on each container.

Processors must keep records of products being diverted to charitable institutions, including what the product is, how much of it is being diverted from the marketplace, why it is being donated and a statement that the product is “Not for Sale.” So, by donating meat and poultry products to charities or institutions who feed people, poultry and meat-processing companies are performing a great public service. USDA, in turn, by inspecting the products and setting rules for donation, such as this new one, ensure the products going to these charitable organizations are safe for the consumers at these charities to eat.

Bernard Shire is Meat&Poultry’s Washington correspondent based in Lancaster, Pa.