US plans to modernise meat inspection

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

FSIS: genome sequencing will improve scientific methods to screen out foodborne disease
FSIS: genome sequencing will improve scientific methods to screen out foodborne disease

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US government agency the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has requested millions of dollars from Congress to develop a rigorous, science-based method to improve its meat inspection capabilities. 

In a meeting with politicians at the US House of Representatives, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) deputy undersecretary for food safety, Al Almanza, requested $8.5m to help the agency modernise scientific approaches to food safety.

The funding, if agreed by the US government, will come into effect in the 2017 fiscal year and will be used in three ways to improve food inspection: whole genome sequencing, advanced analytics and expanded lab analysis.

FSIS’ commitment to modernising scientific approaches to food safety is based on the tremendous advances being made in food safety technology,​” said Almanza in a testimony to the House of Representatives last month.

'Work not done'

“We have learned that by adopting these new and innovative advances, we will be able to strategically improve food safety. FSIS is experimenting with new ways to view and combine information to glean fresh insights from data and more effectively target potential sources [and] causes of illnesses.​”

The funding will enable FSIS to develop and deploy new tools to be used in the detection and elimination of foodborne illnesses, dramatically reducing the number of food safety recalls.

By implementing a whole genome sequencing scheme, FSIS told GlobalMeatNews this would help the government agency “characterise bacterial genomes with greater precision, and improve the speed and accuracy of outbreak investigations​”. This scheme also lends itself well to the FSIS Antimicrobial Resistance initiative and could help detect resistance within certain antimicrobial agents.

Through additional funding in advanced analytics, FSIS hope to improve its insight on pathogens, adulterants and chemical contaminants in order to effectively decrease food contamination in the future.

In 2016 there have been 24 food safety recalls in the US, 75% of those involving meat products, according to the FSIS. Almanza conceded that the “work is not done​” on robustly combating food safety in the US, but added: “Our emphasis on science and our efforts to modernise food safety have significantly contributed to the overall decline in bacterial foodborne illnesses.​”

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