On November 2, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS or the Agency) released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2017–2021 Strategic Plan,1 which provides a framework for FSIS to address continual challenges with inspection modernization and articulates FSIS’s goals for meeting its public health mission over the next four years.
FSIS strongly asserts that it has successfully implemented the 2011–2016 Strategic Plan with the collaborative assistance of industry, Agency employees, and the public. The FSIS Constituent Update indicates that these efforts have culminated in the Agency’s system of food safety inspection continuing to be one of the most reliable and well-documented in the world.2
The 64-page Strategic Plan’s development process included input from FSIS headquarters and field employees, Agency leadership, and federal stakeholders and industry. This input helped shape FSIS’s stated focus over the next four years to meet its goals and objectives. The plan describes intentions to increase inspections, enforce tighter food safety regulations, implement updated and streamlined scientific techniques and procedures, further enhance and facilitate communications between the Agency and industry, and expand processes for evaluating imported and domestic meat, poultry, and egg products. We discuss each of the Agency’s goals briefly below.
Prevent Foodborne Illness and Protect Public Health
FSIS will continue to prevent contamination and limit illness from regulated products. In brief, the primary goal is to prevent illness and protect consumers from contaminated products. The Agency outlines six steps aimed at protecting unintentional and intentional contamination. Specifically, FSIS will strive to drive compliance with food safety statutes and regulations by focusing assessments of domestic establishments’ food safety systems and identifying patterns and trends in noncompliance.
The Agency will also increase product sampling, outreach, technical assistance, and information sharing with other countries regarding FSIS regulatory requirements and work to ensure public health standards are established and met for imported products. Additionally, the Agency will try to reduce the presence of hazards in food by increasing the sampling for microbial or chemical hazards, as well as verifying the effectiveness of establishments’ food safety programs and process controls to increase the percent of establishments that meet new pathogen-reduction performance standards.
Food safety oversight will be improved at in-commerce facilities by using risk-based approaches to target FSIS’s resources, including those used for surveillance activities, investigations, enforcement activities, and other initiatives. FSIS will continue to enhance its responsiveness to outbreaks through improved communications and information sharing. The Agency will advance the adoption and incorporation of food defense practices in day-to-day operations and will increase public awareness of recalls, foodborne illness, and safe food practices.
Modernize Inspection Systems, Policies, and the Use of Scientific Approaches
FSIS will improve food safety and humane handling practices by adopting innovative approaches and enhancing access to complete and accurate information. This second goal is to incorporate key methods and approaches intended to enhance and improve information and data access. The goal’s main focuses include
- enhancing efforts in rapid in-field screening and whole genome sequencing to identify and respond to outbreaks,
- using data from the Public Health Information System and new data generated from enhanced scientific techniques to facilitate inspection task scheduling across establishments,
- increasing awareness of humane handling best practices through broader and targeted outreach to the industry, and
- improving reliability, access, collection, and distribution of information and data to facilitate communications among FSIS headquarters, field employees, external stakeholders, and industry.
Achieve Operational Excellence
Last, FSIS will maintain a well-trained and engaged workforce with a focus to improve processes and services. This third goal pinpoints key areas where the Agency seeks to improve how it will support the first two goals and overall mission. Its objectives focus on recruiting, engaging, training, and improving the processes and services.
Although it contains no major surprises, the Strategic Plan reflects FSIS’s continuing efforts to evolve away from the Agency that simply places the “USDA Inspected and Passed” sticker on the meat and poultry products it oversees and into a more multifaceted, science-oriented public health organization. Organizations and individuals that the Agency regulates can benefit from the plan’s familiarity and from its stated goals as their own food safety efforts continue to evolve in a similar direction.