FSIS: RETAIL FOOD SAFETY INSPECTIONS WILL REMAIN A LOCAL RESPONSIBILITY

CHICAGO -- New inspection standards and procedures are not likely to mean routine visits at the retail level, according to an official from the Food Safety and Inspection Service.In conjunction with the farm-to-table approach to inspection, safety at retail will be regulated, but not on a federal level, said Michael Taylor, acting undersecretary for food safety and administrator of FSIS, in a conversation

CHICAGO -- New inspection standards and procedures are not likely to mean routine visits at the retail level, according to an official from the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

In conjunction with the farm-to-table approach to inspection, safety at retail will be regulated, but not on a federal level, said Michael Taylor, acting undersecretary for food safety and administrator of FSIS, in a conversation with attendees of the American Meat Institute's annual conference here.

"The retail food safety issue of what happens at that front line, the last stop before the consumer gets the product, has to be addressed as part of our strategy," he said.

"I don't think the solution ever will be any sort of systematic federal inspection or oversight of retail outlets. It's just from a resource standpoint too massive an undertaking. Traditionally as you know, that's been a state and local responsibility.

"I think what we're focusing on is how we can ensure that really sound, science-based, [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point]-oriented standards and principles can be installed and then applied through the efforts of the retailers and state and local regulatory people. The same sort of principles we're applying in the plants can be applied to minimize hazards at that level. And I think that approach has to be pursued very aggressively."

He added that the Food and Drug Administration is helping to further develop HACCP approaches for retail. The farm-to-table strategy, Taylor asserted, must become "more than a slogan."

"We need to address what happens to that product after it leaves the plant. We have no performance standards at the national level today for very basic elements of safe food handling during transportation. We have no oversight, no accountability whatsoever for what happens when your product is put on that truck and shipped across the country."

Discussing a current top-to-bottom review of the FSIS, Taylor said that major changes are in store there as well to make the agency more effective.

"We have inspectors in plants engaged in many, many tasks that really don't contribute directly to food safety. On the other hand, there are a lot of tasks that we could be performing that would relate to food safety."

Taylor expressed concern that new budget allocations to the FSIS would limit the agency's ability to promote change.

"Our message to the Congress on the budget is very clear: We do need to fundamentally change our program and the way we use our resources. We have to redeploy our resources to improve food safety, but sustaining an adequate level of inspectional resource is absolutely essential to the success of our whole change agenda, and the transformation of our agenda from the current model to the HACCP model."