The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced that, as of February 8, 2013, it will require producers of non-intact raw beef and all ready-to-eat products containing meat and poultry to hold shipments until they pass agency testing for foodborne pathogens. FSIS announced its plan to implement this policy in April 2011.

In the past, FSIS’s practice has apparently been “to allow products tested for adulterants to bear the mark of inspection, and to enter commerce, even when test results have not been received.” FSIS had asked, but not required, official establishments to maintain control of products tested for adulterants pending test results. According to FSIS, “because establishments, including official import inspection establishments, were not consistently maintaining control of product, despite FSIS’s request that they do so, adulterated product was entering commerce.” FSIS has reportedly stated that if the new requirement had been in place between 2007 through 2010, 49 of the 251 meat, poultry and processed egg product recalls that occurred during that time could have been prevented.

The new policy requires official establishments and importers of record to maintain control of products tested for adulterants by FSIS and not allow the products to enter commerce until negative test results are received. FSIS anticipates most negative test results will be determined within two days. The policy applies to non-intact raw beef products or intact raw beef products intended for non-intact use and that are tested by FSIS for Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli. The policy also applies to any ready-to-eat products FSIS tests for pathogens.

“This new policy will reduce foodborne illnesses and the number of recalls by preventing contaminated products from reaching consumers,” said USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen in an FSIS news release. “Many producers hold products until test results come back. We’re encouraging others in the industry to make this a routine part of operations.” See Federal Register, December 10, 2012.