USDA to Speed Up Traceback

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week announced policy changes aimed at keeping contaminated meat or poultry products from ever reaching consumers.

The prevention-based policy measures will include implementation of some parts of the 2008 Farm Bill, agency officials said.

The measures propose to speed up trace back procedures, help both plants and the USDA to trace contaminated food materials in the supply chain, enable them to act on them sooner, and to check on the effectiveness of food safety systems, according to the May 2 announcement.

“The additional safeguards we are announcing today will improve our ability to prevent foodborne illness by strengthening our food safety infrastructure,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, in USDA’s announcement. “Together these measures will provide us with more tools to protect our food supply.”

The USDA’s policy change statement indicates that the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service division is implementing three provisions included in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The new regulations, published as a Final Rule and directed by Congress, require establishments to prepare and maintain recall procedures, to notify FSIS within 24 hours that a meat or poultry product that could harm consumers has been shipped into commerce, and to document each reassessment of their hazard control and critical control point (HACCP) system food safety plans.

USDA FSIS proposes to launch trace backs earlier and identify additional potentially contaminated product when it finds E. coli 0157:H7 through its routine sampling program.

According to USDA’s announcement, when FSIS receives indication of contamination through presumptive positive test results for E. coli, it will move quickly to identify the supplier of the product and any processors who received contaminated product from the supplier, once confirmation is received.

FSIS is making available guidance to plants on the steps that are necessary to establish that their HACCP food safety systems will work as designed to control the food safety hazards they confront. This process, called “validation,” enables companies to ensure that their food safety systems are effective for preventing foodborne illness. The notice announces that the draft guidance document is available for comment.