USDA urged to speed up ‘long overdue’ label revision

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Foodborne illness

Picture: SFC. Crinkled instructions of a SHI label on curved surface of a turkey breast
Picture: SFC. Crinkled instructions of a SHI label on curved surface of a turkey breast
The Safe Food Coalition has urged the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ‘not delay any longer’ on revising a label for raw and partially cooked meat and poultry products.

It has filed a citizen petition asking for revisions that would require labels to include recommended internal end-point temperatures and “rest time” requirements, instructions to use a thermometer to verify internal temperatures and information on safe handling practices.

The group said a lot has changed since FSIS developed the safe handling instructions (SHI) label requirements in 1994.

Two decades of research

Revisions are supported by two decades of research on consumer behaviour and on the survival rates of pathogens at specific end-point temperatures.

When asked what it was going to do, the agency directed us to already available online materials.

FSIS looked at revising the label requirements in 2013 and a year later the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) issued a report with recommendations.

A study on consumer perceptions was presented earlier this year supporting revisions but FSIS is doing a second round of consumer research before possible rulemaking.

“While we support FSIS efforts to deepen its understanding of labeling issues, we think that the agency has gathered sufficient evidence and conducted the necessary evaluations to undertake the long overdue revisions recommended in this petition,”​ said the Safe Food Coalition.

“The current SHI label does not reflect the food safety research that has been developed over the past 22 years. The SFC maintains that the SHI label is out of date and does not provide the information needed to prepare and handle meat, poultry, and catfish products safely.”   

Prevent foodborne illness

The coalition said it was confident that changes to USDA’s product labels will help the foodservice industry and consumers to follow safe food handling and preparation steps, which will prevent foodborne illnesses.

Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at Consumer Federation of America, said: “We think these changes will lead to more informed consumers, which will ultimately benefit public health and the food system as a whole.”

The petition also requests that USDA require SHI labels for all raw or partially cooked siluriformes fish, including catfish products, which, at least for the moment, fall under the agency’s oversight.

Patricia Buck, executive director for the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, said many consumers read current labels and think they know what ‘cook thoroughly’ means, but the research shows there is a lot of confusion.

“Using a thermometer to verify the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and catfish products is one of the most important ways to avoid a foodborne illness, and the labels should reflect that fact.”

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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