Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture´s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a press release announcing that it has posted a set of draft compliance guidelines to help small and very small meat and poultry manufacturers reduce harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods. The guidance aims to provide information about processing and safe handling of RTE products and about understanding and meeting FSIS’ regulatory requirements in order for food manufacturing establishments to produce safer products.

usda fsis.jpgThis updated guidance was prompted by several illness-related recalls in 2010. FSIS hopes that the new compliance guidelines will improve the safety of RTE products and will help lower the incidence of bacterial contamination. Al Almanza, Administrator of FSIS, pointed out in the press release that “[t]he prevention of foodborne illness is [FSIS’] top priority.” According to Almanza:

These guidelines spell out FSIS´ recommended best practices when it comes to producing food items that consumers usually do not cook before eating. Our goal is to help industry apply some of the recent lessons we have learned so they can prevent future problems, resulting in safer ready–to–eat food for consumers.

The guidance contains a section on five important lessons that the agency and industry has learned from past Salmonella Food Safety Assessments. Those lessons include not using the same utensils or containers for handling RTE product that are used for raw product without cleaning and sanitizing between uses; cleaning and sanitizing all equipment used for processing both raw and cooked product; ensuring the safety of any ingredients added after the cooking step; identifying all hazards associated with all steps in the company’s hazard analysis; and having a validated method for testing the raw ingredients for the presence of bacteria.

FSIS is requesting public comments to improve the document´s content, readability, applicability, and accessibility. The agency will accept comments on or before June 21, 2011 and will then update the guidance document in response to the comments received.

Electronic comments can be submitted at Written comments can be sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS Room 2-2127, George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Mailstop 5272, Beltsville MD 20705-5272. All comments must include the Agency name and docket number FSIS-2010-0026.