The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) recently highlighted its key achievements in 2023 that helped strengthen food safety and the supply chain, from small business outreach efforts, to cracking down on Salmonella in poultry, and more.
Regular Inspections Conducted at Federally Regulated Establishments
In 2023, FSIS conducted antemortem and postmortem inspection of 161 million head of livestock and 9.8 billion poultry carcasses. Approximately 304 million pounds of inspected catfish were also produced in 2023. Additionally, FSIS inspected 2.7 billion pounds of liquid, frozen, and dried egg products.
FSIS staff also conducted 7.7 million food safety procedures to verify that systems at all federally inspected facilities continued to maintain food safety and wholesomeness requirements.
A New Strategy to Reduce Cases of Salmonellosis Attributable to Poultry
After announcing its intent to propose a regulatory framework to reduce Salmonella infections linked to poultry products, FSIS completed a peer-reviewed risk profile for Salmonella subtypes and collaborated on peer-reviewed quantitative risk assessments for Salmonella in chicken and turkey to inform new policies for the pathogen. For example, in June 2023, FSIS and the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) published the findings of a study that assessed Salmonella rates in not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) breaded and stuffed chicken products.
FSIS continued to hold meetings with stakeholders, including a virtual public meeting on reducing Salmonella in poultry and a meeting with small and very small establishments. All comments received in these forums were reviewed and considered in developing a formal regulatory proposal, which is expected to publish in early 2024.
Outreach to Small and Very Small Establishments to Strengthen Food Supply Chain
As part of the agency’s continued outreach efforts to help small and very small plants produce safe food, FSIS hosted five in-person and virtual roundtables, reaching nearly 400 participants. The goal of the events was to increase access to regulatory information and best practices to maintain and enhance food safety and strengthen the food supply chain.
Additionally, in July 2023, FSIS launched a monthly newsletter for small and very small establishments to help them stay on top of the latest developments that may impact their operations. To meet smaller producers’ need for specialized outreach and guidance materials, FSIS also released three new guidance documents to help industry, especially small plants, in producing safe and properly labeled food, and hosted webinars to assist industry in understanding the guidelines: FSIS Guideline for Label Approval, FSIS Ready-to-Eat Fermented, Salt-Cured, and Dried Products, and FSIS Guideline to Control Salmonella in Swine Slaughter and Pork Processing Establishments.
Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Sufficiency
In partnership with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, FSIS incorporated culturally appropriate food safety information in boxes delivered through the Food Distribution Program in tribal communities. In addition, FSIS participated in the launching of the Bison Pilot Project, which will allow for state or federal inspection of tribally produced bison meat, removing a significant barrier to the sale of this meat to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
FSIS also assisted two tribal establishments—one within the Muscogee Creek Nation, the other within the Cherokee Nation—through the process of applying for federal inspection to slaughter and process cattle, sheep, goats, and swine.
Substantiating Labeling Claims
FSIS published the results of a nationwide consumer survey that revealed that the current “Product of USA” claim is misleading to most consumers. The results of the consumer survey informed a new proposed rule with requirements for the use of the voluntary Product of USA claim on FSIS-regulated products.
In addition, FSIS is strengthening the substantiation of animal-raising claims by partnering with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to conduct a sampling project to identify if antibiotic residues are present in cattle destined for the “raised without antibiotics” market. FSIS is also reviewing and updating its guidance documents regarding animal-raising and environmental claims.
Raising Consumer Awareness of Food Safety
FSIS’ actions to protect public health in 2023 included responding to 11,740 inquiries through the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, and AskFSIS responded to nearly 36,000 questions from customers. Additionally, more than 7.9 million consumers accessed the self-service food safety resource database, and FSIS Q&As posted on the AskUSDA website were viewed more than 341,000 times.
FSIS proactively shared vital food safety information with media outlets, reaching more than 27 million consumers through numerous high-profile outlets. In addition, FSIS executed new strategic partnerships with national food delivery service companies that culminated in new outreach to consumers across 29 states through more than 165,000 meal delivery boxes during the Thanksgiving season.
FSIS also released the results from the final year of its five-year observational study on behaviors that impact food safety during meal preparation. FSIS is using the results of the study to adjust its messaging to consumers on safe food handling practices.