The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has proposed a procedural change that would allow inspectors to keep meat and poultry products from commerce “until FSIS test results for harmful substances are received.” FSIS currently recommends that processors and official import establishments hold sampled products pending test results, but has evidently concluded that this voluntary measure has allowed adulterated shipments to enter the market. “Therefore, FSIS is announcing its tentative determination not to apply the mark of inspection until negative results are available and received for any testing for adulterants,” stated the agency, which will accept comments on the proposal for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

FSIS has argued that a mandatory “test and hold” requirement will “substantially reduce serious recalls for meat and poultry.” Along with the agency’s new and revised performance standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter incidence in young chickens and turkeys, the new policy aims to comply with the directives of President Barack Obama’s (D) Food Safety Working Group, which has asked federal agencies to prioritize foodborne illness prevention, strengthen surveillance and enforcement, and improve response and recovery in the event of recall. In addition, as Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen noted, “testing and holding at U.S. points-of-entry… will strengthen safety efforts focused on imported food—offering an additional safeguard to American consumers.” See FSIS Press Release, April 5, 2011.

The measure has already drawn public support from the American Meat Institute (AMI), which in 2008 submitted a petition for industry-wide “test and hold” rules reflecting “the voluntary practices of AMI’s members.” According to AMI President J. Patrick Boyle, “this policy will prevent needless recalls, further ensure food safety and maintain consumer confidence.” See AMI Press Release, April 5, 2011.