"While many establishments have similar policies already in place, this proposed requirement will allow government to provide an additional safeguard to ensure food safety," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Meat and poultry products will be prevented from reaching consumers until our inspectors have the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate test results. This approach will help us enhance protection of the food supply, reduce recalls, and ensure that all consumers are getting the safest food possible."
FSIS inspects billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually. FSIS believes that 44 of the most serious recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented if this procedure had been in place.
"There is no more fundamental function of government than keeping its people safe from harm, and today we are taking another proactive approach to further prevent consumers from falling victim to foodborne illness," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "We believe this will result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables. In addition, by testing and holding at U.S. points-of-entry, FSIS will also strengthen safety efforts focused on imported food – offering an additional safeguard to American consumers."
The response from the meat industry was largely positive. The American Meat Institute said that it was pleased the FSIS granted the petition that the association submitted in 2008 in regards to a mandatory test and control policy.
“We are pleased that USDA has indicated that it will make mandatory our voluntary test and control procedures,” said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “We believe that this policy will prevent needless recalls, further ensure food safety and maintain consumer confidence.”
Tyson Foods Inc., the country's largest meat processor, also supports the rule.
"We've had test and hold procedures in place at our plants for about ten years," said Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson. "While we don't typically favor more government regulation, we believe it makes sense in this case to mandate 'test and hold' for the whole industry."
But some smaller companies have opposed the change, saying they have a limited ability to refrigerate thousands of pounds of perishable goods while they await test results, reports ABC News.
"It's challenging for some companies that are small or very small producers because they might not have the capacity to hold the product," said Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for AMI. "We think holding the product while you await test results makes sense. It prevents recalls. And it's prudent from a food safety perspective," she said.
President Obama's Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) developed three core principles to help guide food safety in the United States: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response and recovery. In its overall mission to ensure a safe food supply for the public, and in response to the FSWG, FSIS developed the test and hold requirement to ensure consumers are getting the safest food possible.
In addition, on March 16, USDA announced implementation of revised and new performance standards aimed at reducing the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys. USDA expects the new standards – which require establishments slaughtering chicken and turkey to make continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens – to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses.
The Federal Register notice announcing test and hold and soliciting public comments will be published in the near future. To view the proposed requirement, visit http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/2005-0044.pdf. FSIS invites comments on this proposed change in policy and procedures. Once the notice is published in the Federal Register, comments must be received on or before 90 days, and may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS Docket Clerk, Room 2-2127, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Mailstop 5272, Beltsville, MD 20705. All comments must identify FSIS and docket number FSIS-2006-0044. In a subsequent Federal Register notice, the Agency will respond to those comments, make any appropriate changes to the policy and procedures, and announce the effective date of the new policy.
Sources: FSIS, AMI, ABC News