The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) announced key 2017 achievements in protecting public health, preventing foodborne illness and promoting confidence in the U.S. food supply.
In 2017, FSIS inspected more than 155 million head of livestock and 9.45 billion poultry carcasses. FSIS inspectors also conducted 6.9 million food safety and food defense procedures across 6,500 regulated establishments to ensure that meat, poultry and processed egg products were safe and wholesome.
“FSIS’s dedicated public servants take their public health mission seriously and work tirelessly to prevent foodborne illness,” acting deputy undersecretary for food safety Carmen Rottenberg said. “The U.S. food safety inspection system is the most reliable and trusted in the world, and we will continue to earn that trust by protecting public health and modernizing systems and processes.”
FSIS currently employs more than 9,000 employees, more than 8,000 of whom work in federally regulated establishments, laboratories, import establishments or in-commerce facilities.
As far as next steps, acting FSIS administrator Paul Kiecker said: “FSIS will continue to increase our use of whole-genome sequencing and develop key informational tools and resources for inspection personnel. We’ll continue to ensure that U.S. meat, poultry and egg products are the safest in the world.”
Targeting foodborne illness
FSIS continued its multipronged approach to combat salmonella in fiscal 2017. FSIS continued sampling poultry carcasses and established new pathogen reduction standards for salmonella and campylobacter in comminuted poultry and chicken parts. FSIS also sampled raw beef and continued the sampling program for salmonella in pork products to determine the presence and levels of salmonella in five types of processed pork products.
FSIS continued to strengthen coordination of federal foodborne outbreak response responsibilities with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. In collaboration with its partners, FSIS bolstered its approach to preventing illnesses and deaths associated with multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks by stopping outbreaks rapidly when they occur and by preventing future foodborne outbreaks, FSIS said.
This was accomplished by: enhancing coordination among federal foodborne outbreak detection and response agencies, ensuring that the roles and responsibilities of the different federal agencies are clearly defined and well-integrated, enhancing processes to stop foodborne outbreaks rapidly and communicating food safety system gaps identified during investigations to inform efforts to prevent future outbreaks.
In 2017, FSIS continued its initiatives to modernize operations and inspection systems. FSIS continued to modernize poultry inspection under the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) through its science-based, preventive approach to poultry inspection. In 2017, FSIS continued to achieve successful conversion of poultry establishments that chose to opt in to NPIS. FSIS regulations, which were revised under NPIS rule-making, mandate that all poultry establishments – even those that do not opt in to NPIS – take steps to prevent contamination rather than addressing contamination after it has occurred.
“With NPIS, food safety inspectors are now better positioned to verify that establishments maintain effective food safety systems by increasing food safety and sanitation verification tasks. These verifications are a more effective and efficient use of resources due to their focus on food safety-related tasks,” FSIS said.
FSIS also enhanced its science-based approach to illness prevention with the introduction of whole-genome sequencing. This technology will allow the agency to accurately identify and respond to outbreaks, enrich collaborations with other federal and state agencies and conduct efficient illness investigations back to the source. The agency is poised to address 21st-century public health challenges with continued modernization of processes, policies and technologies.
In 2017, FSIS successfully implemented inspection of Siluriformes fish by transitioning regulatory oversight from FDA to FSIS. Following an 18-month transition period, full implementation of Siluriformes inspection began Sept. 1, 2017. In addition, 100% re-inspection of imported shipments of Siluriformes fish began Aug. 2, 2017.
FSIS worked with stakeholders to identify businesses, both domestic and international, that would be affected to provide information and training on FSIS inspection requirements to ensure a smooth transition. FSIS also worked diligently with foreign countries to provide feedback on documentation submitted by countries seeking equivalence to ship Siluriformes products to the U.S.
In fiscal 2017, FSIS protected public health by preventing the entrance of or removing more than 715,000 lb. of adulterated or ineligible imported Siluriformes product from U.S. commerce.
Foreign country equivalence oversight and import re-inspection programs
FSIS strengthened its oversight and re-inspection of products coming into the U.S. FSIS conducted equivalence determinations, audited foreign country systems and reinspected imported products to ensure that all imported products are safe and wholesome for American families.
In 2017, FSIS completed ongoing equivalence verification audits of 17 countries to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Currently, more than 185 establishments and 33 countries are deemed eligible by FSIS.
In 2017, approximately 4 billion lb. of meat and poultry products were presented for FSIS re-inspection from the eligible countries that are actively exporting product to the U.S.
Outreach is an important part of FSIS’s efforts to inform and educate a variety of audiences (including consumers and regulated industry) on FSIS policies, activities and foodborne illness prevention.
In addition, outreach is critical to the agency's continued efforts to modernize and ensure that small and very small plants have access to resources and FSIS guidance. To ensure that regulated establishments have clear information from FSIS, the agency issued guidance to the industry on several critical topics, including how to label product correctly and how to support those labeling claims. Additionally, the agency posted guidance to further assist establishments in distinguishing whether or not a label needs to be submitted for FSIS approval.
FSIS provided consumer information through new and enhanced channels such as Pinterest and extended hours of operation for the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline. In addition, FSIS conducted significant outreach to consumers leading up to major holidays and during weather emergencies to achieve 53 million consumer impressions.