Modernization, collaboration, education, safer nation

FSIS Administrator Al Almanza reviews 2014, eyes the year ahead (Part 2)

By Heidi Parsons contact

- Last updated on GMT

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service tackled several tough issues in 2014.
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service tackled several tough issues in 2014.

Related tags: Food safety, Government accountability office, Food and drug administration, Fsis

Major product recalls, multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness, formalizing cooperation among federal agencies, and an overhaul of the poultry slaughter inspection system: such challenges are all in a day's work for Al Almanza, adminstrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Almanza spoke with FoodProductionDaily about the agency’s 2014 accomplishments and what’s in store for this year.

Part 1​ of this article was published yesterday.

In 2015, “we’ll continue with our modernization efforts — and not just in the context of poultry slaughter,” ​Almanza said. “In a recent report, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) noted that FSIS is becoming increasingly data-driven and science-based. We’ll take that further this year.”

Unlike some years, budgetary restrictions will not be a problem. Both houses of Congress made food safety a priority in the recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill. “We were fortunate to receive a funding level that will allow us to move forward with our plans,”​ said Almanza.

Almanza said his agency is committed to providing continuous improvement in detecting pathogens and reducing their rates of incidence in meat, poultry and eggs.

“We’ve set a very high bar,”​ he noted. “To help us reach the bar, we’ll continue collaborating with our partners at the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and FDA (US Food and Drug Administration.”

Fruits of cooperation

In addition to collaborating with other federal and state public health agencies, FSIS will continue to partner with a wide range of organizations representing the meat, poultry and egg industries, supermarket chains and other food retailers, and consumer groups.

Al Almanza, FSIS Administrator
Al Almanza, FSIS Administrator

“Part of being a regulator is preventing food safety problems wherever possible,” ​Almanza said. “Everyone at FSIS works hard at that, but food safety depends on people following best practices at many levels, from the processor to the retailer to the consumer.”

“That’s why we work with groups like the Partnership for Food Safety Education. They disseminate vital information to a variety of audiences.”

On policy issues, FSIS works with the meat, poultry and egg industries on two levels, Almanza said. The agency confers directly with growers and processors, and consults with trade associations such as the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

Group dynamic

Almanza provided an example of an FSIS initiative in which the industry played a vital role: the introduction last August of a set of traceback procedures for ground beef. As a significant percentage of the ground beef sold in grocery stores is ground on-premise, the new procedures will require retailers to maintain their own grinding logs.

The procedures will allow the agency to trace contaminated ground beef back to its source more quickly, remove it from commerce, and find the root cause of the incident to prevent it from recurring.

“We met with people from AMI, FMI, GMA and other associations to get their input,”​ Almanza said. “We received a lot of good feedback and incorporated several of their key points.”

As a result, FSIS will be able to develop a Final Rule this year, in less time than usual. “It’ll be so impactful,” ​Almanza said. “Anyone and everyone who buys ground beef at the supermarket will be affected.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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