The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a press release on Wednesday, December 5, 2012, announcing that companies producing raw ground chicken and turkey and similar products will be required to reassess their sanitation procedures and pathogen control plans over the next few months. Specifically, over the next 90 days, producers of raw ground chicken and turkey must conduct a thorough examination of its current Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to confirm its ability to identify hazards and better prevent foodborne illness. After the 90 day period, FSIS inspection program personnel will begin verifying that establishments that manufacture raw ground turkey or chicken products have indeed reassessed their HACCP plans.
FSIS will be documenting whether establishments made any changes to their HACCP plans in response to the required reassessment and will later evaluate those changes. Later, the agency intends to publish guidance materials for the industry on best practices to reduce Salmonella in ground and comminuted (further processed by mechanical separation or deboning and chopped, flaked, minced or broken down) poultry.
In making this announcement, officials at FSIS are hoping to lower the prevalence of Salmonella contamination within these types of products. This attention to the ground poultry product industry with a focus on Salmonella comes as a response to recent outbreaks that have sickened hundreds across the country in the past few years. Just in the last two years there have been two major Salmonella outbreaks associated with ground poultry products that affected consumers nationwide.
In conducting these reassessments, FSIS is advising companies to look at, among other things, the following:
[E]stablishments should evaluate the adequacy of their sanitation procedures for processing equipment, including grinders, blenders, pipes, and other components and surfaces in contact with the product. Thus, Sanitation SOPs, other prerequisite programs, or HACCP plans should address procedures that ensure that all slaughter and further processing equipment, employee hands, tools, and clothing, and food contact surfaces are maintained in a sanitary manner to minimize the potential for cross contamination within and among lots of production. In addition, FSIS expects establishments to ensure that slaughter and dressing procedures are designed to prevent contamination to the maximum extent possible. Such procedures should, at a minimum, be designed to limit the exterior contamination of birds before exsanguination, as well as minimize digestive tract content spillage during dressing process.
Other FSIS recommendations include validating cooking instructions, examining lotting practices that minimize contact between lots, and requiring suppliers to show that they have used a Salmonella intervention step.
In FSIS’s notice, the agency also announced that it will be expanding the Salmonella verification sampling program to include other raw comminuted poultry products, in addition to ground product; it will be increasing the sample size for laboratory analysis from 25 grams to 325 grams to provide consistency as the Agency moves toward analyzing samples for Salmonella and Campylobacter; and it will be conducting sampling to determine the prevalence of Salmonella in raw comminuted poultry products.
Although these new procedures are intended for producers of ground or comminuted chicken and turkey products, FSIS is recommending that manufacturers of comminuted products derived from cattle, hogs, and sheep or comminuted poultry products derived from poultry other than chicken or turkeys also consider assessing whether their food safety systems present food safety vulnerabilities.
Pork producers are feeling the effects of the swine flu as the number of reported cases of the virus increases. Stock prices for Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, and Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, fell 12 percent and 9 percent today, respectively. The Wall Street Journal reports that the prices of hogs, corn, and soybeans also dropped today. About 16 percent of U.S. pork exports have been shipped to Mexico over the past year – a country where so far 149 people have died from the swine flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials have emphasized that swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food and people cannot contract the virus by eating pork or pork products. That fact alone does not seem to be enough to quell consumers’ fears. MarketWatch earlier today quoted a pork industry analyst as saying the industry wants to avoid a slip of exports and prices akin to the 2003 avian flu outbreak in Asia. Analyst Heather Jones said she believes the pork industry “needs to undertake an aggressive and widespread informational marketing campaign.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. announced today that it is closing 10 of its Mexico City cafes in response to the swine flu outbreak and pursuant to instructions from the Mexican government.