On Nov. 4, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released its Strategic Plan for 2017-2021. The Strategic Plan outlines the agency’s goals for the next five years, specifically identifying the measures it intends to achieve these goals and the criteria by which the FSIS will measure success.

It essentially provides a roadmap for where FSIS is heading in the near future.

The first and foremost goal of FSIS is to prevent foodborne illness and protect public health. FSIS intends to achieve this goal by preventing contamination and limiting illnesses from regulated products. With regard to preventing contamination, the agency makes it clear the focus will be on driving regulatory compliance and influencing the behavior of establishments through regulatory activities, such as Food Safety Assessments (FSAs), sampling and performance standards.

Measures of success will include, among other things, reducing the number of establishments with “for cause FSAs,” increasing the percentage of products from establishments that FSIS samples, and increasing the number of establishments that meet pathogen performance standards. With regard to limiting illnesses, the agency intends to improve food safety at in-commerce facilities by increasing surveillance at higher risk facilities, with particular focus on ensuring retail delis are following FSIS deli Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) guidelines. The agency also intends to enhance its response to foodborne outbreak and adulteration events by improving the working relationship with federal and state public health partners, and increase public awareness of food handling safety practices and recalls.

The second goal of FSIS is to modernize inspection systems, policies, and use of scientific approaches. FSIS intends to achieve this goal by: 1) improving food safety and humane handling by adoption of innovative approaches and 2) enhancing access to complete and accurate information for decision-making. With regard to food safety and humane handling, specific measures will include:

  • Developing “real time” analytical tools to enable inspectors to conduct on-site microbial testing;
  • Implementing Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis of all pathogen positive samples as soon as possible to assist in outbreak investigations and identify continuing issues with pathogen strains at establishments;
  • Using predictive analysis under the Public Health Inspection System (PHIS) for inspection task scheduling, such as using PHIS data to generate “Early Warning Alerts” when there is an “emerging concern or non-compliance trend” that an establishment needs to address; and
  • Developing and implementing outreach programs to improve compliance with animal restraint and stunning requirements.

With regard to complete and accurate information, FSIS stated it will, among other things, increase the number of establishment-specific and other FSIS data that are made publicly available.

The third and final goal is to achieve operational excellence, which relates to how FSIS will improve its workforce, processes and services to achieve the above goals. Among other things, FSIS will improve recruitment and retention of “mission critical positions,” enhance training and improve information technology.

Also included with the Strategic Plan is an appendix on Public Health Indictors, which FSIS will use to assess its progress in reducing contamination of, and illnesses associated with, FSIS regulated products. The two indicators addressed are the FSIS Contamination Rate Indicator and the FSIS Illness Indicator.

The FSIS Contamination Rate Indicator provides an estimate of the pathogenic incidence rates for FSIS regulated product and is derived from FSIS sampling programs for shiga toxin E. coli (STEC), Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Lm (for ready-to-eat sampling programs, the percent positives for Salmonella and Lm are volume-weighted). The FSIS Illness Indicator will provide an estimate of the number of illnesses attributable to FSIS-regulated products. FSIS notes that it will use an improved attribution methodology developed by the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration for estimating illnesses. It will also use this new method to develop separate illness estimates for each of the pathogens of concern on FSIS-regulated products.

Because FSIS has not issued any estimates using this new method, it is uncertain how the estimates will differ from the previous measure. It is also uncertain whether FSIS will use the new method on past data or whether all estimates (and trends) will be prospective only.

To measure its performance in meeting its goals, FSIS plans to use an agency-wide scorecard to track progress on a quarterly basis. FSIS will also continue with its Annual Performance plan, which assesses its performance in achieving goals and how the agency plans to work toward goals during the coming year.

It should be an interesting five years. NP