News Feature | August 15, 2014

New FSIS Procedures Will Improve Traceability On Contaminated Ground Beef

By Laurel Maloy, contributing writer, Food Online

FSIS Traceability On Contaminated Ground Beef

“Streamlined” and “expedited” are two words describing the USDA’s new procedures. A summer of positive changes means a safer food supply chain and growing consumer confidence

Traceability just got a huge shot in the arm by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). A recent news release outlines the new procedures that will go into effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register on Oct 14, 2014. This summer has been one of positive changes and action for the FSIS with the following happening over the last three months:

  • In May, the FSIS enhanced the testing program for ground beef, combining Salmonella testing with testing for E. coli that is already in place. Citing the fact that the samples taken for E. coli are much larger than those taken for Salmonella, FSIS believes that if Salmonella is present, it will be detectable. Though ground beef was the culprit in a 2013 Salmonella outbreak, it is fairly low in terms of occurrences. However, the outbreak sickened 22 people in six states and resulted in seven patients ill enough to be hospitalized. It also resulted in a call for more efficient Salmonella protocols to be implemented. This new testing will enable FSIS to collect much more data in regard to the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef — this will, according to the agency, result in safer ground beef products and fewer foodborne illnesses. The new test procedures will include analysis on antibiotic resistant (ABR) strains of Salmonella and will also identify specific serotypes in order to ascertain any link to human illnesses.
  • In July, FSIS proposed an amendment to its recordkeeping regulations requiring all makers of raw ground beef products to keep more thorough records. This includes retailers who purchase ground beef in bulk and repackage the product for sale, as well as those who buy cuts of meat and mix them for ground beef. The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on July 22, will require all establishments to record the source, the supplier, and the type of products used to make the ground beef. Lot numbers, the amount of beef, in pounds, utilized, and the dates and times each lot was produced will have to be documented.  This proposed rule is open for public comment until Sept 22.
  • On Aug 13, FSIS announced it will be able to immediately open an investigation when ground beef tests positive for E. coli O157:H7 during the initial testing phase. Past practice has required the positive test to be confirmed prior to an active investigation being implemented. This sometimes delayed the start of an investigation by two days. Additionally, the facility testing positive will be required to provide the supplier information promptly, enabling t FSIS to also open an investigation into the supplier. In the past, an investigation of the supplier would have occurred 30 days after the initial investigation of the facility was conducted.

All of these processes are expected to save valuable time and more efficiently protect the public from foodborne illnesses, specifically Salmonella.  These steps, in conjunction with implementation of FSMA, make the prospects for safer food and improved consumer confidence look awfully good.