WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture will announce the first step in a new trace-back policy for ground beef within 90 days, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Aug. 3. Vilsack made his comments at International Association for Food Protection Annual Conference.

“Ground beef follows a long and complex processing chain, and we need a better system for tracing back contaminated product in that chain quickly,” Vilsack said. “In 90 days, I expect the agency to announce the first step in transforming our traceback policy. I've also instructed the Food Safety and Inspection Service [FSIS] to complete a pilot study on new technologies and sampling methods that help us test ground beef and trim more quickly and efficiently. If we hold industry accountable for safe food, then our tests and sampling methods must be the best available.”

In addition, Vilsack said he expects to see the implementation of a ‘test and hold’ policy later this year.

The American Meat Institute petitioned for this policy change in a 2008 letter to then Under Secretary Richard Raymond, was iterated to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in October 2009, and reflected the voluntary practices of AMI’s members.

“It’s pretty simple really. When FSIS tests for adulterants in any of the meat we regulate, that product should not enter the food supply until we know the test results,” Vilsack said. “This is a commonsense policy that food safety stakeholders across the spectrum agree on and that we are looking forward to implementing later this year.”

Vilsack also said the department is expanding its Salmonella Initiative Program (SIP) and launching a series of workshops to engage livestock and poultry producers, produce growers, scientists and other stakeholders in a dialogue to identify the best way to use pre-harvest practices to reduce foodborne illness.