WASHINGTON – The year isn’t over yet, but the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture took a look back at the agency’s accomplishments in 2018.

“In 2018, FSIS inspected more than 160 million head of livestock and 9.47 billion poultry carcasses and conducted 6.9 million food safety and food defense tasks,” said Carmen Rottenberg, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “Our dedicated FSIS workforce continues to ensure that consumers have access to the safest meat and poultry supply in the world.”

The agency’s efforts to modernize food safety inspection processes has been the subject of much debate. But FSIS has remained steadfast in its mission to focus more inspection activities on testing and label review for undeclared allergens, for example, and less on visual inspection of carcasses. On the regulatory front:

  • FSIS proposed to amend the egg products inspection regulations by requiring official plants that process egg products to develop Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (Sanitation SOPs) and to meet other sanitation requirements consistent with the meat and poultry regulations.
  • The agency also announced a proposed rule to modernize the swine slaughter inspection system to include food safety and pathogen testing requirements for all swine slaughter establishments.
  • Some proposed rules actually deregulated the industry a bit. For example, the agency proposed removing requirements for carcasses to be stamped with the USDA mark of inspection if the carcasses are to be also processed at the same facility. Pork processors also are no longer restricted in the hours that an official establishment may prepare uninspected, inedible products such as animal and pet food.
  • Finally, FSIS published criteria used to consider waiver requests from establishments seeking to increase line speeds up to 175 birds per minute. The agency said the waiver will enable poultry processors to test innovative equipment, technology or procedures as long as they maintain process control at the higher speeds.

Significant meat recalls made headlines in 2018. An outbreak of Salmonella Newport infections linked to ground beef produced at a JBS processing plant in Tolleson, Arizona, totaled 333 case patients and resulted in a recall of approximately 12.09 million lbs. of beef products. So, it’s no surprise that targeting foodborne illness led FSIS food safety efforts.

“FSIS has continued to target sampling and use other strategies to control Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, the agency said. “FSIS is continuing to use whole genome sequencing to track illness, inform inspection and policy decisions, and enhance our collaborations with sister agencies and state governments.”