It has been an interesting year. The total number of FSIS recalls is down, to 118 in 2016 from 149 in 2015 (Note, September 1 to August 31 each year). That is a drop of 31 total recalls.

In terms of recall specifics:

  • E. coli increased by five
  • Salmonella decreased by two
  • Listeria up seven
  • Misbranding down five
  • Recalls for “Producing without the benefit of inspection” down five
  • No HACCP plan is unchanged
  • Foreign material up eight
  • Allergen down 33
  • Process Deviation down two
  • Other recalls down two.

The most noticeable and positive trend above is allergen recalls are down by roughly 50 percent. That is very positive, given all of the attention to given to allergen recalls. Nevertheless, allergens remain the leading category for recalls. Misbranding recalls are also down.

Not all is positive, however — there are several troubling trends. Listeria recalls have gone up well over 50 percent. E. coli recalls also have gone up. This indicates that the industry may have reacted to misbranding and allergen recalls by placing resources to control these issues to the detriment of pathogen control. The thing to remember is, pathogen recalls are almost always avoidable, hold product pending testing results!

One of the biggest trends we have seen this year is contamination in product. Our clients have reported everything from knives and hooks to a computer bag in trim combos, a hook in a box of livers, etc. The recall data supports this.

The question is, has the level of this type of issue been going up, or is it just that we are paying more attention, reporting it more often with the implementation of the transportation rules a while back? Having had numerous conversations with a variety of people in and around the issue, I’d say the jury is still out.

We have seen the trend to buy local pick up steam. The fight over GMOs, country-of-origin labeling (COOL), and other labeling issues has made it into the mainstream media on multiple occasions. There were a lot of headlines saying that the COOL laws were repealed, but it’s important to note that they were not repealed; they were modified.

Grocery chains are opening their own central meat-processing facilities to supply their stores and increase control of production for quality, supply control and cost factors.

One of the more interesting events of the year was watching FSIS attempt to regulate ground beef records, put out a final rule, then quietly retract enforcement, only to announce when they are going to start regulating. They promised to put out a federal notice in the near future clarifying what they intend.

Another trend we are seeing is that large non-meat production companies are moving into the high-end meat industry via co-packers. Many don’t have the expertise in the production of meat products and are hence using co-packers to provide the expertise and production capabilities. The vast majority of these products are being branded with local appeal, chasing after the growing “buy local” trend.

The upcoming year will be exciting for a variety of reasons, if for no other reason than the upcoming 2016 Presidential election. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is on record supporting GMO products, and even went so far as to advise the industry on how to change the public perception of the products, saying that the term “drought-resistant seed” sounds more appealing to consumers than the term “GMO seed” might sound.

Republican candidate Donald Trump seems to have spoken directly about food safety, having gone on record as saying that he was going to roll back the “food police,” seemingly in reference to food-safety regulators and administration. This fact sheet, however, was soon withdrawn from his Web site. Ultimately, though, he is on record as favoring less regulation.

Generally speaking, any of the candidates will be positive for regulatory prudence, including the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, who is a longshot to win at this point, but is being discussed and promoted heavily on the Internet.

On the opposite side are the various consumer groups that are pushing for additional regulations and more oversight, not less.

In the upcoming year, I expect to see more market shift as larger, traditionally non-meat food processors move production into higher-quality, uniquely branded products. The increase in players in the meat industry without the institutional knowledge of not only USDA-FSIS regulation but basic food-safety principles increases the potential of more recalls and bad press for the meat industry.

You can expect FSIS to react to the increase in E. coli and Listeria recalls, and while the drop in Salmonella recalls is promising, the results of laboratory sampling indicate that the prevalence is rising.

How can you get ahead? Use HACCP to your advantage, make sure that you have robust holding procedures for product that is subject to testing, continue to review labels prior to shipping product while at the same time holding your own suppliers accountable for the ingredient statements that they are using. Redouble your efforts to control metal, plastic, and other foreign materials that may contaminate your products, and finally, make sure you have open lines of communication concerning when you are working in an overtime status with inspection. NP

State of the Industry 2016 segments

Industry overview Goes live Oct. 14
Beef (CAB) Oct. 18
Beef (NCBA) Oct. 19
Pork (Pork Board) Oct. 20
Pork (Sun Trust) Oct. 21
Chicken Oct. 24
Turkey Oct. 25
Veal Oct. 26
Lamb Oct. 27
Food Safety Oct. 28
Packaging Oct. 31