WASHINGTON – The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently shared its key achievements for 2022 and how it plans to protect public health through food safety.

The USDA agency first looked at reducing illness linked to Salmonella in poultry products.

Following its announcement to reevaluate its approach on Salmonella in 2022, the FSIS shared that it invested in data gathering and outreach to develop a proposed regulatory framework to reduce infections.

“As a public health regulatory agency, it is our responsibility to improve our current regulations and policies to more effectively reduce these illnesses,” said Emilio Esteban, USDA under secretary for food safety. “This past year we continued to move towards strengthening our policy for poultry products linked to Salmonella.

Along with the framework, FSIS detailed in August 2022 its intention to declare Salmonella an adulterant in not ready-to-eat breaded and stuffed products.

In addition, the agency developed a risk profile and two quantitative risk assessments. FSIS also looked toward advisory committees and held a public meeting to discuss the proposed strategy while also taking comments.

“These efforts aim to move the agency closer to achieving a reduction in foodborne illnesses and lay the groundwork for more developments in 2023 as FSIS continues its efforts to seek stakeholder feedback to inform planned rulemaking,” the agency said.

Next on the listed accomplishments for the FSIS was expanding processing capacity for independent small and very small meat and poultry operations.

The agency said that it provides multiple programs to provide resources like overtime fee reductions, plant outreach and guidance materials.

Since July 2021, FSIS used a provision from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) to reduce overtime and holiday inspection fees for small establishments by 30% and very small establishments by 75%. Since its enactment, FSIS has issued credits and refunds to more than 2,800 small and very small establishments, providing more than $33 million in savings. The agency plans to continue to offer reduced fees until funds are exhausted.

During the last year, FSIS held seven small plant roundtables and listening sessions in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, which reached about 450 participants with both virtual and in-person attendance.

In June of last year, the FSIS visited three tribal nations looking at their approach to raising and harvesting bison.

The Osage Nation of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Tribe, Makoce Agriculture Development on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the InterTribal Buffalo Council hosted the FSIS at these events.

Near the end of 2022, the USDA announced it would appoint the newest members of the USDA/1890 Task Force, to promote a partnership between the agency and the 1890 land-grant universities.

In another ongoing topic, the agency commissioned a survey regarding the “Product of USA” to analyze US consumers’ understanding of the labeling question. Results have not been released yet, but the agency has looked into the issue since it began the comprehensive review in July 2021.

More states entered into agreements for State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs and Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) programs.

Early in March, the state of Montana finalized a CIS agreement that allows selected state-inspected processing facilities that comply with federal inspection requirements.

During October, the state of Arkansas signed a cooperative agreement which will permit state inspection of meat products produced for shipment in the state. The state of Oregon also signed onto the MPI program.

At the end of 2022, 29 state inspection programs were operating as well as a total number of 10 states participating in the CIS program.

Under collaboration with other agencies and public health partners, FSIS decided last year to agree on a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to enhance data sharing and coordinate critically important public health activities.”

The agency signed a similar MOU with the US Food and Drug Administration to improve coordination on regulatory efforts with dual jurisdiction and collaborations with the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding worker safety.

For its diversity, equity and opportunity efforts, FSIS said it spent last year offering recruitment incentives to inspection personnel and expanded recruitment methods by prioritizing equity, coordinating local hiring events and implementing process improvements.

“The result was shorter times to hire, growing programs to support veterans and professionals with disabilities, and use of new talent-management platforms to advertise open positions and broaden applicant pools,” the FSIS said. “Talent management tools have allowed FSIS to reach over 10 million students/graduates and nearly 2,000 schools and alumni associations, including about ⅓ of all Minority Serving Institutions.”