Ground Beef

Leniency and investigations

According to Thesmar, USDA intends on taking a soft approach with educating retailers and bringing them up to speed. If USDA believes a retailer is making the effort to comply and keeping records organized the best they can, it’s her understanding from conversation with headquarters at the agency, that USDA will help the retailer better understand what needs to happen for compliance.

However, retailers that ignore the new rule and don’t make any effort to abide by the regulation will subject themselves to enforcement action and non-compliances.

“If you make a good faith effort to comply and understand, and are just a little bit short, then they’ve said they’ll work with you,” Thesmar said. “It’s the companies that are just negligent, throw the regulations back at the agency and say, ‘We’re not even going to try,’ that they will make examples of.”

The grinding regulations come through the meat products inspection act, making them federal regulations. Under certain circumstances in certain states, USDA will contract with a state that offers inspections at smaller establishments.

“So it could be that there are some states offering that service to USDA,” Thesmar said. “In general, the inspections, or the investigations as they’re calling them, are all going to be done by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and are all going to follow the procedures that are in place as outlined by FSIS.”

A shift in record keeping

FMI did a survey of its members recently to figure out where their members are and what they’re doing in relation to the rule. FMI surveyed regional chain retailers, national chain retailers, independent operators and wholesalers. These groups answered the question, “As a result of the UDSA’s final rule, have you made any changes in your operation to improve compliance?”

Over 80 percent of respondents said they had made changes to comply with the new rule, such as electronic record keeping, changed or implemented recordkeeping system, added detail to record keeping, modified SOP and changed practices such as no longer grinding bench trim or custom grinds.

“Five years ago, pretty much everyone kept paper records,” Thesmar said. “Now there’s a huge shift we’re seeing a lot of electronic record keeping. So, that’s the power of a regulatory mandate is to shift the industry and to shift the practices of an industry.”

The survey also asked for some of the factors that prompted the shift from paper to electronic record keeping. At the top of the list was ease of use. Other popular responses for the change to electronic included compliance with regulation, improving record keeping and enhancing traceability.

For those that stayed with paper, respondents cited reasons as having a lack of technology in the store, cost of a new system, simple grinding processes, the ease of paper record keeping and a system already in place. However, Thesmar was confident that the shift to electronic would continue.

“I think if we measure again in five years, we’ll see an even more dramatic shift toward electronic record keeping,” she said.