The program targets 90 per cent of the 6,000 federally inspected plants, the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said in a press release. Small plants are classified as those that have between 10 and 500 employees and more than $2.5 million in annual sales. Very small plants are classified as those that have fewer than 10 workers or less than $2.5 million in sales.
The FSIS will provide a toll-free telephone number and an Internet site to help provide small plants more information and better access to technical resources, including scientific validation materials and training.
FSIS employees will alo meet with plant operators to learn more about their needs. The agency plans to hold joint training sessions for small plants and FSIS workers.
The FSIS also plans to inform plant owners of loan programs available through the agriculture department. Plant owners will be able to get loan guarantees to help them borrow money for upgrading facilities and equipment.
The new program follows a national series of listening sessions that helped the FSIS identify ways for small and very small plants to fully benefit from the agriculture department's food safety program, said Richard Raymond, the under secretary for food safety.
"We will continue to enhance our outreach efforts to these plants and enlist our partners to ensure critical training, access to food safety experts and information resources are available in a format that's uniform, easily accessible and consistent," he stated in announcing the program.