WASHINGTON – Winding down the first year with Dr. Mindy Brashears serving as the US Dept. of Agriculture’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published a summary of its 2019 accomplishments. Efforts to protect public health by preventing foodborne illnesses, updating the legislation and practices behind the inspection of millions of animals in the food supply chain and enhancing the communication between federal and state public health agencies were among the accomplishments highlighted by the FSIS.

According to its summary, during the 2019 fiscal year, FSIS officials inspected nearly 10 billion poultry carcasses and more than 164 million head of livestock. During the year, inspectors carried out about 7.1 million science-based food safety and food defense procedures in 6,500 federally inspected US plants where poultry, meat and eggs are produced.

 “It’s all about the science,” Brashears said. “Science and data inform every decision we make.”

Modernizing the inspection systems at swine-slaughtering plants to encourage industry innovation was achieved with the agency finalizing the rules of the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS) in 2019. The NSIS final rule ensured 100 percent of carcasses are inspected while maximizing the offline duties of inspectors that directly impact public health. Plant operators can now choose to either continue operating under the traditional inspection system or opt for the NSIS.  

Other FSIS efforts to protect public health included a proposed rule to change performance standards in not-ready-to-eat comminuted poultry products to a method that recovers Campylobacter more effectively. The FSIS also changed the sampling plan and methodology used for surveillance of the National Residue Program for lamb and sheep as well as initiating a surveillance protocol for detecting pesticide residues in liquid and dry egg products. 

To ensure the safety of the food supply chain, FSIS updated how poultry plants’ Salmonella performance standards are assessed during fiscal 2019. Additionally, new estimates of the presence of Salmonella of pork products were published and new Salmonella categories were implemented as a response to public comments.

Under the heading of collaboration, FSIS iterated that most of its actions are conducted in conjunction with agencies at the municipal, state and federal levels.

“FSIS collaborated with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to meet the agency’s goal to improve coordination of federal food safety efforts and address cross-cutting priorities for food safety data,” the agency’s summary said.

Looking ahead to fiscal 2020, FSIS plans include: finalizing 2019 proposed rules; expand testing for non-O157 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) for federally inspected beef products; and continued modernization of food safety programs and systems.