Washington, D.C., Jan. 31, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced its key achievements in 2023 that protected public health through food safety and strengthened the food supply chain.
“USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is focused on protecting the American public, and in 2023, we continued to advance initiatives toward this goal, including by empowering small establishments in producing safe food and meeting consumer expectations on labeling claims,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Emilio Esteban. “As we reflect on the accomplishments of the past year, we remain committed to preventing foodborne illness, ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply, and strengthening the food supply chain.”
Empowering Small and Very Small Establishments through Comprehensive Outreach to Strengthen the Food Supply Chain
FSIS continued the agency’s targeted outreach efforts to help small and very small plants produce safe food. This was achieved by hosting five roundtables, reaching nearly 400 participants with both virtual and in-person attendance. The goal was to increase access to regulatory information and best practices to maintain and enhance food safety and strengthen the food supply chain. FSIS implemented options for interpretation, translation, and sign language services to ensure the roundtables were accessible to all small plant attendees.
In July, FSIS launched a monthly newsletter for small and very small establishments to help them stay on top of the latest developments that may impact their operations. In addition, FSIS used funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to assist more than 2,900 small and very small plants by reducing overtime and holiday inspection fees, giving these small businesses economic flexibility through saved operational costs.
To meet smaller producers’ need for specialized outreach and guidance materials, FSIS released three new guidance documents to help industry, including small plants, in producing safe and properly labeled food, and hosted webinars to assist industry in understanding the guidelines: FSIS Guideline for Label Approval; FSIS Ready-to-Eat Fermented, Salt-Cured, and Dried Products; and FSIS Guideline to Control Salmonella in Swine Slaughter and Pork Processing Establishments.
Affirming FSIS’ Commitment to Strengthen Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Sufficiency
FSIS is dedicated to expanding collaborations that increase food security, respect traditions, and serve Tribal nations. In partnership with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, FSIS incorporated culturally appropriate food safety information in boxes delivered through the Food Distribution Program in Tribal communities. In addition, FSIS participated in the launching of the Bison Pilot Project, which represents an important collaboration between USDA agencies that will promote equity and remove barriers to USDA services and programs for Indian Country, while still ensuring that food safety standards are met. This pilot will allow for state or federal inspection of Tribally produced bison meat, removing a significant barrier to the sale of this meat to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
FSIS also assisted two Tribal establishments—one within the Muscogee Creek Nation, the other within the Cherokee Nation—through the process of applying for federal inspection to slaughter and process cattle, sheep, goats, and swine.
As Tribes work to preserve their traditions and expand their meat and poultry processing capacity, FSIS is fully committed to listening to and understanding diverse Tribal perspectives. FSIS presented at two meetings with Tribal leadership, communities, and businesses. These events create a space for direct communication, strengthen trust, and ensure FSIS policies and programs adequately consider Tribal interests, needs, traditions, and culture. FSIS also launched a new enhancement to its publicly available Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory to visualize the boundaries of Tribal land.
Meeting Consumer Expectations on Labeling Claims
FSIS published the results of a nationwide consumer survey that revealed that the current “Product of USA” claim is misleading to most consumers. The results of the consumer survey informed a new proposed rule with requirements for the use of the voluntary Product of USA claim on FSIS-regulated products.
In addition, FSIS is strengthening the substantiation of animal-raising claims by partnering with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to conduct a sampling project to identify if antibiotic residues are present in cattle destined for the “raised without antibiotics” market. FSIS is also reviewing and updating its guidance documents regarding animal-raising and environmental claims.
Developing a New Strategy to target Salmonella in Poultry to Better Protect Consumers from Illness
After announcing its intent to propose a regulatory framework to reduce Salmonella infections linked to poultry products, FSIS completed a peer-reviewed risk profile for Salmonella subtypes and collaborated on peer-reviewed quantitative risk assessments for Salmonella in chicken and turkey to inform new Salmonella policies.
FSIS continued to hold meetings with stakeholders, including a virtual public meeting on Reducing Salmonella in Poultry and a meeting with small and very small establishments. All comments received in these forums were reviewed and considered in developing a formal regulatory proposal, which is expected to publish in early 2024.
By the Numbers: Safeguarding Food Safety Across All Federally Inspected Establishments
FSIS protected public health by conducting ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection of 161 million head of livestock and 9.8 billion poultry carcasses. Approximately 304 million pounds of inspected catfish were produced in 2023. Additionally, FSIS inspected 2.7 billion pounds of liquid, frozen, and dried egg products. FSIS staff also conducted 7.7 million food safety procedures to verify that systems at all federally inspected facilities continued to maintain food safety and wholesomeness requirements. FSIS continues its commitments to modernize inspection systems and operations to enhance efficiencies without compromising food safety.
Raising Consumer Awareness of Food Safety
FSIS’ actions to protect public health extend to consumers through strategic outreach and education activities. FSIS responded to 11,740 inquiries through the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, and more than 7.9 million consumers accessed the self-service food safety resource database. In addition, AskFSIS responded to nearly 36,000 questions from customers and FSIS Q&As posted on the AskUSDA website were viewed more than 341,000 times.
FSIS proactively shared vital food safety information with media outlets, reaching more than 27 million consumers through numerous high-profile outlets. In addition, FSIS executed new strategic partnerships with national food delivery service companies that culminated in new outreach to consumers across 29 states through more than 165,000 meal delivery boxes during the Thanksgiving season.
FSIS also released the results from the final year of its 5-year observational study on behaviors that impact food safety during meal preparation. FSIS is using the results of the study to adjust its messaging to consumers on safe food handling practices.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.
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