The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced the beginning of its “Generically Approved Label Record Assessment Pilot Project.”  This project is the pilot phase of FSIS’s inspectional program to assess the effectiveness of the expanded generic approval program in ensuring meat and poultry labels comply with FSIS regulations. The pilot program will take place through the end of September and will begin with five establishments. Although the pilot project affects only a few establishments, it signals that FSIS plans to begin reviewing generically approved labels more closely in the relatively new future and shows how the Agency plans to do so. Companies operating under FSIS inspection might use this opportunity to review their generic approval compliance programs and prepare for closer Agency scrutiny.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released its final pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw chicken parts and not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) comminuted chicken and turkey products, entitled New Performance Standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter in Not-Ready-to-Eat Comminuted Chicken and Turkey Products and Raw Chicken Parts and Changes to Related Agency Verification Procedures: Response to Comments and Announcement of Implementation Schedule (the Notice).

The new standards set a high bar for Salmonella and Campylobacter reduction, and FSIS speculates that a significant percentage of the poultry industry initially will not meet the standards.

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The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will soon publish in the Federal Register its long anticipated final rule modernizing the poultry slaughter inspection system. The final rule generally tracks the Agency’s January 2012 proposal with some modifications, most notably a lower line speed than proposed for chicken establishments. The new system, dubbed the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), is modeled after the Agency’s long-running HACCP Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) pilot program and is designed to give establishments more control over their slaughter and processing operations.

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Yesterday, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released a compliance guideline addressing steps meat and poultry establishments can take to control and prevent the introduction of undeclared allergens into food products. The guidance, Allergens and Ingredients of Public Health Concern: Identification, Prevention and Control, and Declaration through Labeling (the Guidelines), identifies key steps FSIS recommends establishments take to identify potential sources of foodborne allergens, prevent and control the introduction of allergens into foods, and ensure all allergens are declared on food labels. Guidelines are technically nonbinding recommendations, but FSIS considers food adulterated and misbranded if its label fails to declare any of the “Big Eight” allergens present in the food.  FSIS “recommends that establishments consider incorporating the practices set out in [the Guidelines] in their HACCP plan or Sanitation SOPs or other prerequisite programs.”

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The Food Safety and Inspection (FSIS) will soon publish in the Federal Register its final rule expanding the scope of labels eligible for generic approval. Under the final rule, labels will be eligible for generic approval unless the product has been produced under a religious exemption, the label is for export only and contains deviations from U.S. requirements, the label bears a “special statement or claim,” or the establishment is seeking a temporary approval of a noncompliant label. The final rule will take effect 60 days from the date it is published in the Federal Register.

This post highlights areas of the final rule that provide the greatest amount of flexibility for generic approval as well as other guidance conveyed in the accompanying preamble.

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On December 6, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published a notice in the Federal Register that will effect several changes to the way the agency regulates not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) ground and other comminuted poultry products. Establishments producing NRTE comminuted poultry products must reassess their HACCP plans within 90 days of the notice’s publication to take into account several recent Salmonella outbreaks, the agency will expand its Salmonella verification sampling program to include non-breaded, non-battered comminuted NRTE poultry products, and the agency will apply its Category 1 performance standard to all comminuted poultry. Moreover, FSIS has announced that it will consider meat or poultry products that contain pathogens that are not considered adulterants but that are linked to an illness outbreak adulterated on the ground that they are “unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food” and would request a recall.

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Tomorrow, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will publish a final rule, Additional Changes to the Schedule of Operations Regulations, expanding FSIS inspectors’ standard 8-hour workday to include time needed to prepare the inspection station, retrieve and return lot tally sheets, sharpen knives, and conduct duties scheduled by FSIS, including administrative activities. Establishments receiving inspection will need to incorporate time for these activities into their schedules of operations or incur overtime inspection charges. The rule will take effect 60 days after it is published; an advance copy of the final rule is attached. This expansion of an inspector’s compensable activities comes on the heels of last year’s final rule requiring that donning and doffing activities be included in an inspector’s standard tour of duty.

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FSIS has released a brief Q&A addressing issues related to the new requirement that establishments report to their district offices all instances of adulterated or misbranded products within 24 hours of learning or determining that products have entered commerce. The reporting requirement applies for products received by or originating from an establishment. 9 C.F.R. § 418.2. In FSIS Notice 34-12, the agency reiterated the rule’s basic requirements and indicated establishments were to begin complying on June 7, 2012.  The recently released Q&A document clarifies the agency’s understanding of when a product is “in commerce” and provides some insight into situations the agency considers reportable.

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The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will publish in an upcoming issue of the Federal Register a final rule requiring official establishments to notify the agency of adulterated or misbranded food in commerce, creating significant reporting obligations. The final rule also requires establishments to maintain written recall plans and document in writing the results of HACCP plan reassessments. The final rule, which implements portions of the 2008 Farm Bill, carries over most of the elements of the rule proposed in 2010, with a handful of changes

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On December 29, 2010, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published a final rule that requires nutrition labeling for single-ingredient meat and poultry products. Under the new rule, major cuts of meat and poultry and ground or chopped meat and poultry products will have to be accompanied by nutrition information. The labeling requirements differ for the major cuts and for the ground and chopped products. Failure to provide this mandatory information will render the product misbranded. The new rule also permits ground or chopped meat and poultry products that do not qualify for a low-fat claim to bear a lean percentage claim. These changes will become effective January 1, 2012. This post summarizes the new rule’s labeling requirements.

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