USDA Involvement With Retail Establishments

USDA, in January 2016, launched a nationwide pilot project to determine the status of retailers’ voluntary adoption of its "FSIS Best Practices Guidance For Controlling Listeria monocytogenes in Retail Delicatessens". The "Best Practices Guidance" provides recommendations that supermarket operators and retail deli operators could use to control Listeria monocytogenes contamination of RTE meat and poultry products. Specific elements in the Guidance are based on recommendations from the "Interagency Risk Assessment––Listeria monocytogenes in Retail Delicatessens"; which included information from FDA, FSIS, other guidance documents and the scientific literature.

In February 2017, FSIS issued a directive providing instructions to its Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit, Compliance and Investigations Division investigators on the protocol for completing a questionnaire that will help them compare the practices observed in delicatessens with those in the "Best Practices Guidance". OIEA CID investigators will now conduct in–commerce surveillance activities at retail firms that slice or prepare deli products.

The "Best Practices Guidance" provides recommendations rather than requirements, and identifies the "Eight Most Important Actions That Retailers Can Take To Protect Public Health". Those "Actions" are: (1) Eliminate visibly adulterated product present in the retail delicatessen. (2) Refrigerate RTE meat or poultry products promptly after use. (3) Do not prepare, hold or store RTE meat or poultry products near or directly adjacent to raw products in the deli case or elsewhere in the deli area. (4) Cover, wrap or otherwise protect all opened RTE meat or poultry products when not in use, to prevent cross–contamination. (5) Ensure that insanitary conditions (e.g., flies, rodent droppings, mold or dirty surfaces) are not present where RTE meat and poultry products are prepared, packed and held. (6) Clean and sanitize equipment used to process RTE products at least every four hours. (7) Eliminate facility conditions in the deli area or storage area that could cause the products to become adulterated (e.g., condensation dripped on exposed product, construction dust or broken equipment). (8) Require deli employees handling RTE products to wear disposable gloves.

Although it might seem that such guidance should fall under the auspices of the Food Code, the fact that FSIS has a wealth of information on the subject as a result of years of experience from reviewing sanitation programs for Listeria monocytogenes in meat and poultry plants makes USDA uniquely qualified to administer this program.

On a second front, USDA published policy (9 CFR Part 320––Grinding Logs; 79231 Final Rule, December 21, 2015; Effective June 20, 2016 with a delayed enforcement until October 1, 2016) which requires that meat markets (in supermarkets or stores) keep detailed records––by lots––of all ground beef generated at market– or store–level.

The policy statement says "Requires documentation of supplier establishment number and name of source material from each production lot of ground beef produced, including lots containing carry–over product and for custom grinds; date and time of each production lot of ground beef; and date and time for when food contact surfaces were cleaned and sanitized".

Supermarket operators have reacted to this policy in different ways. Some continue to grind bench–trimmings at store–level, and do keep detailed "Grinding Log" records; some continue to grind bench–trimmings at store–level but "have not yet started" to keep Grindings Logs. Many have decided to no longer grind beef in their stores, and have changed their purchase specifications for beef subprimal cuts to minimize the volume of bench–trimmings generated by their butchers.

Again, it would seem that such policy should be administered via the Food Code but USDA has two decades of experience in minimizing foodborne–pathogen contamination in meat, poultry and egg products.

Makes one wonder if the next move is for USDA to issue guidance or policy for those who cook our food.

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