Ten things government can do to help small plants improve food safety
Food safety standards are the same for all plants, big and small. Large companies usually have more resources to hire people, invest in interventions and maintain microbiological testing programs. Of course, this puts small plants at a disadvantage. The US Congress, USDA and other government agencies need to develop strategies to assist small plants or the meat industry will become even more concentrated. Here are 10 things that could be done to help small businesses improve food safety:
- Congress should provide tax credits for investment in equipment and process improvements. This has the benefit of helping small businesses improve their food safety systems plus it will improve public health and reduce costs associated with foodborne disease.
- USDA should establish a library of reference materials for use as supporting documentation for HACCP plans and SSOP's.
- The mission of USDA inspectors and EIAO Officers should be formally changed to facilitate food safety improvements.
- USDA should establish requirements that beef slaughter plants implement at least two validated interventions (USDA's AMS has already implemented this requirement for school lunch purchases).
- USDA should require beef slaughter plants and plants that produce trimmings to test for E. coli O157:H7 and maintain process control records (AMS has already implemented this requirement for school lunch purchases as well). The combination of steps 4 and 5 will reduce the risk of pathogen contamination in meat raw materials for small businesses.
- USDA should encourage better control of Listeria monocytogenes by dropping Alternative 3 and requiring all plants to either incorporate a growth inhibitor or use a post lethality treatment(or both). Small plants that operate under Alternative 3 are just waiting their turn for a recall.
- Establish a dedicated USDA resource desk for small plants to help answer technical questions.
- USDA should provide clear direction on methods for microbiological sampling and testing.
- HACCP training should be offered on a USDA website that allows employee training without the expense of travelling to a course site and paying for registration.
- USDA should protect small plants from being shut off by suppliers as a result of microbiological tests results or food safety policies.
No doubt there are many other actions that could be taken to help small plants improve food safety. This list of 10 is a good place to start.
About Jim Marsden: Dr. James L. Marsden is Regent's Distinguished Professor of Food Safety and Security at Kansas State University, and the senior science advisor for the North American Meat Processors Association. He is the past president of the American Meat Institute Foundation in Washington, DC and a graduate of Oklahoma State University.
Some explanatory notes for eFoodAlert readers:
USDA = United States Department of Agriculture
SSOP = Sanitation Standard Operating Practices
EIAO = Enforcement Investigations and Analysis Officer
AMS = Agricultural Marketing Service (an agency of USDA)
Alternative 3 = An alternative method for controlling Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meats that relies solely on sanitation and testing, without requiring the use of antimicrobial agents or a final lethal treatment to kill the bacteria.