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USDA proposes 'test and hold' procedure to boost meat safety

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 06-Apr-2011

The US Department of Agriculture has proposed that companies should hold meat and poultry products until inspectors have received foodborne pathogen test results, in an effort to reduce illness.

In a statement released Tuesday, the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said that it inspects “billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually” and it believes that 44 of the most serious food recalls from 2007 to 2009 could have been prevented it the agency had had a ‘test and hold’ procedure in place during that time.

Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said: “We believe this will result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables. In addition, by testing and holding at US points-of-entry, FSIS will also strengthen safety efforts focused on imported food – offering an additional safeguard to American consumers."

Most major meat processors already hold back products while government inspectors complete tests for foodborne pathogens, a process that can take 24 to 48 hours.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: “While many establishments have similar policies already in place, this proposed requirement will allow government to provide an additional safeguard to ensure food safety.”

The American Meat Institute, which represents most of the meat processing sector in the US, has welcomed the proposal. It originally asked the FSIS in 2008 to make mandatory its voluntary procedure for companies to hold meat products until test results are known.

AMI president J. Patrick Boyle said: “We are pleased that USDA has indicated that it will make mandatory our voluntary test and control procedures. We believe that this policy will prevent needless recalls, further ensure food safety and maintain consumer confidence.”

The notice is open for comments for 90 days.

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