Tag Archives: USDA

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USDA Names Sandra Eskin Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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USDA Logo

USDA has announced its new Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Sandra Eskin, who previously served as the Project Director for Food Safety at The Pew Charitable Trust. Eskin has experience in strategic public policy issues related to consumer protection, food safety, dietary supplement safety, and food and drug labeling and advertising. She has also served as a federal government staff attorney and legislative representative for the Consumer Federation of America as well as the deputy director of the Produce Safety Project.

“Sandra’s deep experience in food safety will strengthen USDA’s dedication to ensuring a safe, secure food supply for consumers and help to protect the safety of federal meat inspectors and workers throughout the food chain,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a USDA press release.

“Eskin will go to the USDA at a particularly challenging time for the agency. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened inequities and worsened nearly every problem with our food supply, and employees at meat processing facilities are some of the hardest hit workers of any industry. Even setting the pandemic aside, the USDA has much more it could be doing to protect Americans from foodborne pathogens, such as the more dangerous strains of Salmonella that contaminate poultry. Eskin, who knows that sound science is key to sound food safety policies, can help steer the ship in the right direction.”  – Peter Lurie, M.D., president of Center for Science in the Public Interest

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Our Petition to USDA: The Time for Change Is Now

By Mitzi Baum
1 Comment
Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

On January 25, 2021 Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP), in collaboration with Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America and five STOP constituent advocates filed a petition with USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to reform and modernize poultry inspections. The goal of these reforms is to reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination in raw poultry thus drastically decreasing foodborne illnesses due to these pathogens.

According to the CDC, in 2019, these two pathogens combined were responsible for more than 70% of foodborne illnesses in the United States. As Mike Taylor, former FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, shares in his
Op-Ed, the time for change is now as the current regulatory framework is inadequate and has not delivered the desired results of reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.

Today, the USDA’s mark of inspection is stamped on poultry, although birds may exceed the performance standards; there are no clear consequences for establishments that do not meet the current guidelines. Without science-based standards or penalties for non-compliance, the burden of this problem falls upon consumers.

At STOP, we share the voices of consumers whose lives have been altered due to preventable problems such as this. Our constituent advocates share their journeys through severe foodborne illness to share the WHY of food safety. Real people, real lives are impacted when we do not demand action. STOP board member, Amanda Craten, shares her son Noah’s story:

“My toddler suddenly came down with a fever and diarrhea, but it wasn’t until weeks later that I learned that his symptoms, which nearly killed him, were caused by a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella.

After being admitted to the hospital, his doctors found abscesses in the front of his brain caused by infection and they were creating pressure on his brain. He underwent surgery and weeks of antibiotic treatments.

My 18-month son was seriously injured and permanently disabled as a result of Salmonella-contaminated chicken.” – Amanda Craten.

Unfortunately, Noah’s story is not rare, which is why Amanda supports this petition for change and has provided a powerful video about Noah’s foodborne disease journey and his life now.

Because there are too many stories like Noah’s, STOP and its partner consumer advocacy organizations want to work with FSIS and industry to:

  1. Develop real benchmarks that focus on reduction of known, harmful pathogens in poultry
  2. Modernize standards to reflect current science
  3. Implement on-farm control measures
  4. Re-envision the standards to focus on the risk to public health

As a new administration begins, capitalizing on this opportunity to modernize poultry inspection that can benefit consumers and the food industry makes sense. STOP and its partners are hopeful that leadership at USDA/FSIS will take this opportunity to create consequential and relevant change. Ultimately, this transformation will reduce the incidence of foodborne illness due to contamination of poultry and increase consumer confidence in the USDA’s mark of inspection. Please comment on this petition.

Have you been impacted by foodborne illness? Tell STOP Foodborne Illness about it.

Nestle Pepperoni Hot Pockets

Nestlé Recalls More than 762,000 Pounds of Pepperoni Hot Pockets Due to Contamination with Glass and Hard Plastic

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Nestle Pepperoni Hot Pockets
Nestle Pepperoni Hot Pockets
An image of the recalled Pepperoni Hot Pockets, as provided on the USDA website.

Nestlé Prepared Foods has recalled about 762,615 pounds of not-ready-to-eat pepperoni hot pockets over concerns of foreign matter contamination. The products, which were produced between November 13 and November 16, 2020 and have a shelf life of 14 months, could be contaminated with glass and hard plastic. Thus far the company has received four consumer complaints of extraneous material in the pepperoni hot pockets, one of which has been associated with a minor oral injury.

The recall involves the following product: 54-oz carton packages containing 12 “Nestlé Hot Pockets Brand Sandwiches: Premium Pepperoni Made with Pork, Chicken & Beef Pizza Garlic Buttery Crust. According to a USDA announcement, the recalled product has a best before February 2022 date with lot codes 0318544624, 0319544614, 0320544614, and 0321544614. It was shipped nationwide and bears the establishment number “EST. 7721A” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Authenticity: 2020 in Review

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

It is fair to say that 2020 was a challenging year with wide-ranging effects, including significant effects on our ongoing efforts to ensure food integrity and prevent fraud in the food system. COVID-19 caused major supply chain disruptions for foods and many other consumer products. It also highlighted challenges in effective tracking and standardization of food fraud-related data.

Let’s take a look at some of the notable food fraud occurrences in 2020:

  • Organic Products. The Spanish Guardia Civil investigated an organized crime group that sold pistachios with pesticide residues that were fraudulently labeled as organic, reportedly yielding €6 million in profit. USDA reported fraudulent organic certificates for products including winter squash, leafy greens, collagen peptides powder, blackberries, and avocados. Counterfeit wines with fraudulent DOG, PGI, and organic labels were discovered in Italy.
  • Herbs and Spices. Quite a few reports came out of India and Pakistan about adulteration and fraud in the local spice market. One of the most egregious involved the use of animal dung along with various other substances in the production of fraudulent chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and garam masala spice mix. Greece issued a notification for a turmeric recall following the detection of lead, chromium, and mercury in a sample of the product. Belgium recalled chili pepper for containing an “unauthorized coloring agent.” Reports of research conducted at Queen’s University Belfast also indicated that 25% of sage samples purchased from e-commerce or independent channels in the U.K. were adulterated with other leafy material.
  • Dairy Products. India and Pakistan have also reported quite a few incidents of fraud in local markets involving dairy products. These have included reports of counterfeit ghee and fraudulent ghee manufactured with animal fats as well as milk adulterated with a variety of fraudulent substances. The Czech Republic issued a report about Edam cheese that contained vegetable fat instead of milk fat.
  • Honey. Greece issued multiple alerts for honey containing sugar syrups and, in one case, caramel colors. Turkey reported a surveillance test that identified foreign sugars in honeycomb.
  • Meat and Fish. This European report concluded that the vulnerability to fraud in animal production networks was particularly high during to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the “most widely spread effects in terms of production, logistics, and demand.” Thousands of pounds of seafood were destroyed in Cambodia because they contained a gelatin-like substance. Fraudulent USDA marks of inspection were discovered on chicken imported to the United States from China. Soy protein far exceeding levels that could be expected from cross contamination were identified in sausage in the Czech Republic. In Colombia, a supplier of food for school children was accused of selling donkey and horse meat as beef. Decades of fraud involving halal beef was recently reported in in Malaysia.
  • Alcoholic Beverages. To date, our system has captured more than 30 separate incidents of fraud involving wine or other alcoholic beverages in 2020. Many of these involved illegally produced products, some of which contained toxic substances such as methanol. There were also multiple reports of counterfeit wines and whisky. Wines were also adulterated with sugar, flavors, colors and water.

We have currently captured about 70% of the number of incidents for 2020 as compared to 2019, although there are always lags in reporting and data capture, so we expect that number to rise over the coming weeks. These numbers do not appear to bear out predictions about the higher risk of food fraud cited by many groups resulting from the effects of COVID-19. This is likely due in part to reduced surveillance and reporting due to the effects of COVID lockdowns on regulatory and auditing programs. However, as noted in a recent article, we should take seriously food fraud reports that occur against this “backdrop of reduced regulatory oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic.” If public reports are just the tip of the iceburg, 2020 numbers that are close to those reported in 2019 may indeed indicate that the iceburg is actually larger.

Unfortunately, tracking food fraud reports and inferring trends is a difficult task. There is currently no globally standardized system for collection and reporting information on food fraud occurrences, or even standardized definitions for food fraud and the ways in which it happens. Media reports of fraud are challenging to verify and there can be many media reports related to one individual incident, which complicates tracking (especially by automated systems). Reports from official sources are not without their own challenges. Government agencies have varying priorities for their surveillance and testing programs, and these priorities have a direct effect on the data that is reported. Therefore, increases in reports for a particular commodity do not necessarily indicate a trend, they may just reflect an ongoing regulatory priority a particular country. Official sources are also not standardized with respect to how they report food safety or fraud incidents. Two RASFF notifications in 2008 following the discovery of melamine adulteration in milk illustrate this point (see Figure 1). In the first notification for a “milk drink” product, the hazard category was listed as “adulteration/fraud.” However, in the second notification for “chocolate and strawberry flavor body pen sets,” the hazard category was listed as “industrial contaminants,” even though the analytical result was higher.1

RASFF

RASFF, melamine detection
Figure 1. RASFF notifications for the detection of melamine in two products.1

What does all of this mean for ensuring food authenticity into 2021? We need to continue efforts to align terminology, track food fraud risk data, and ensure transparency and evaluation of the data that is reported. Alignment and standardization of food fraud reporting would go a long way to improving our understanding of how much food fraud occurs and where. Renewed efforts by global authorities to strengthen food authenticity protections are important. Finally, consumers and industry must continue to demand and ensure authenticity in our food supply. While most food fraud may not have immediate health consequences for consumers, reduced controls can lead to systemic problems and have devastating effects.

Reference

  1. Everstine, K., Popping, B., and Gendel, S.M. (2021). Food fraud mitigation: strategic approaches and tools. In R.S. Hellberg, K. Everstine, & S. Sklare (Eds.) Food Fraud – A Global Threat With Public Health and Economic Consequences (pp. 23-44). Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-817242-1.00015-4
Recall

Q3 Food and Beverage FDA Recalls Up 34% Over Q2, USDA Recalls at Record Low

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

It is being speculated that the short-term decline in the number of food and beverage recalls this year is due to less regulatory oversight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During Q3, FDA food recall activity was up 34% compared to last quarter, but this increase is actually a sign of things returning to normal on the side of regulatory oversight activities, according to the latest Q3 Recall Index from Stericycle.

FDA Food Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q3 2020)

  • Undeclared allergens: 56 recalls, accounting for nearly 53% of all recalls; the top cause of an FDA food recalls for the 13th consecutive quarter
  • Bacterial contamination: Accounting for 62% of recalled units, this was the top cause of recalled units with Salmonella being the most common contaminant (the pathogen was responsible for 17 out of 24 recalls)
  • Foreign materials, quality and mislabeling were the other reasons for recalls

USDA Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q3 2020)

  • Undeclared allergens: Top cause of recalls; 6 recalls accounted of nearly 70% of all recalled pounds
    • A single meat and poultry recall affected more than 242,000 pounds (63%) of all recalled pounds
  • The average recall affected 38,000 pounds
  • Over the last three quarters, recalls have been at record low levels
    • Quarterly recall activity is averaging 8.3 recalls a quarter versus an average quarterly volume of more than 30 recalls over the last five years
Tucson Tamale

USDA Issues Public Health Alert for Tamales Due to Potential Foreign Matter Contamination

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Tucson Tamale

Yesterday USDA’s FSIS issued a public health alert for ready-to-eat chicken and pork tamales because they contain recalled diced tomatoes in puree that have been recalled by the producer due to foreign matter contamination. The puree product is FDA regulated. The RTE tamales were produced by Tucson Tamale Wholesale Co., LLC between October 22 and November 9, 2020, and have the establishment number “EST. 45860” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were sold online and shipped for retail and restaurant distribution nationwide.

Tucson Tamale
Tucson Tamale recalled the above-pictured ready-to-eat tamales due to potential contamination with hard plastic.

Tucson Tamale uncovered the issue upon identifying pieces of hard plastic in the cans of diced tomatoes that they received from their ingredients supplier. FSIS is urging consumers who purchased the product to throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

Mortadella

CDC, USDA Investigating Multistate Listeria Outbreak Linked to Italian-Style Deli Meats

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Mortadella

On October 29, 2020 attend the Food Safety Consortium Virtual episode on Listeria Detection, Mitigation and ControlThe CDC and USDA are investigating a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes that has sent 10 people to the hospital and resulted in one death. The outbreak, which as of October 22 has reported illnesses in Florida (1), Massachusetts (7) and New York (2), has been linked to Italian-style deli meats such as salami, mortadella and prosciutto. Currently no specific deli meat or common supplier has been identified.

CDC, FSIS and other public health officials are using PulseNet to identify any illnesses that could be linked to the outbreak. The following is a link to the CDC’s map of reported cases by state.

FDA

FDA Asks for Comments and Evidence to Aid in Labeling of Cultured Seafood Cells

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has issued a Request for Information in an effort to gain information and data about how to properly label foods made with cultured seafood cells. The goal is to help FDA determine next steps in ensuring that products derived from cultured seafood cells are labeled consistently and transparently. The “Request for Information: Labeling of Foods Comprised of or Containing Cultured Seafood Cells” will be published on the Federal Register on October 7, and there is a 150-day comment period.

“The FDA invites comment, particularly data and other evidence, about names or statements of identity for foods made with cultured seafood cells. The agency is also interested in information on consumer understanding of those terms and how to determine material differences between cell cultured and conventionally produced seafood,” FDA stated in an email constituent update.

The labeling of foods derived from cultured seafood cells falls under FDA jurisdiction. In March the USDA and FDA entered into a formal agreement regarding the oversight of human food made from cells of livestock and poultry.

Manuel Orozco, AIB International
FST Soapbox

Detecting Foreign Material Will Protect Your Customers and Brand

By Manuel Orozco
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Manuel Orozco, AIB International

During the production process, physical hazards can contaminate food products, making them unfit for human consumption. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the leading cause of food recalls is foreign material contamination. This includes 20 of the top 50, and three of the top five, largest food recalls issued in 2019.

As methods for detecting foreign materials in food have improved over time, you might think that associated recalls should be declining. To the contrary, USDA FSIS and FDA recalls due to foreign material seem to be increasing. During the entire calendar year of 2018, 28 of the 382 food recalls (7.3%) in the USDA’s recall case archive were for foreign material contamination. Through 2019, this figure increased to approximately 50 of the 337 food recalls (14.8%). Each of these recalls may have had a significant negative impact on those brands and their customers, which makes foreign material detection a crucial component of any food safety system.

The FDA notes, “hard or sharp foreign materials found in food may cause traumatic injury, including laceration and perforation of tissues of the mouth, tongue, throat, stomach and intestine, as well as damage to the teeth and gums”. Metal, plastic and glass are by far the most common types of foreign materials. There are many ways foreign materials can be introduced into a product, including raw materials, employee error, maintenance and cleaning procedures, and equipment malfunction or breakage during the manufacturing and packaging processes.

The increasing use of automation and machinery to perform tasks that were once done by hand are likely driving increases in foreign matter contamination. In addition, improved manufacturer capabilities to detect particles in food could be triggering these recalls, as most of the recalls have been voluntary by the manufacturer.

To prevent foreign material recalls, it is key to first prevent foreign materials in food production facilities. A proper food safety/ HACCP plan should be introduced to prevent these contaminants from ending up in the finished food product through prevention, detection and investigation.
Food manufacturers also have a variety of options when it comes to the detection of foreign objects from entering food on production lines. In addition to metal detectors, x-ray systems, optical sorting and camera-based systems, novel methods such as infrared multi-wavelength imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance are in development to resolve the problem of detection of similar foreign materials in a complex background. Such systems are commonly identified as CCPs (Critical Control Points)/preventive controls within our food safety plans.

But what factors should you focus on when deciding between different inspection systems? Product type, flow characteristics, particle size, density and blended components are important factors in foreign material detection. Typically, food manufacturers use metal and/or x-ray inspection for foreign material detection in food production as their CCP/preventive control. While both technologies are commonly used, there are reasons why x-ray inspection is becoming more popular. Foreign objects can vary in size and material, so a detection method like an x-ray that is based on density often provides the best performance.

Regardless of which detection system you choose, keep in mind that FSMA gives FDA the power to scientifically evaluate food safety programs and preventive controls implemented in a food production facility, so validation and verification are crucial elements of any detection system.

It is also important to remember that a key element of any validation system is the equipment validation process. This process ensures that your equipment operates properly and is appropriate for its intended use. This process consists of three steps: Installation qualification, operational qualification and performance qualification.

Installation qualification is the first step of the equipment validation process, designed to ensure that the instrument is properly installed, in a suitable environment free from interference. This process takes into consideration the necessary electrical requirements such as voltage and frequency ratings, as well as other factors related with the environment, such as temperature and humidity. These requirements are generally established by the manufacturer and can be found within the installation manual.

The second step is operational qualification. This ensures that the equipment will operate according to its technical specification. In order to achieve this, the general functions of the equipment must be tested within the specified range limits. Therefore, this step focuses on the overall functionality of the instrument.

The third and last step is the performance qualification, which is focused on providing documented evidence through specific tests that the instrument will performs according to the routine specifications. These requirements could be established by internal and industry standards.

Following these three steps will allow you to provide documented evidence that the equipment will perform adequately within the work environment and for the intended process. After completion of the equipment validation process, monitoring and verification procedures must be established to guarantee the correct operation of the instrument, as well procedures to address deviations and recordkeeping. This will help you effectively control the hazards identified within our operation.

There can be massive consequences if products contaminated with foreign material are purchased and consumed by the public. That’s why the development and implementation of a strong food safety/ HACCP plan, coupled with the selection and validation of your detection equipment, are so important. These steps are each key elements in protecting your customers and your brand.

FST Soapbox

FDA Announces Inspections Will Resume…Sort Of

By Trish Wester
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FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D. recently announced that food safety inspections will resume in July, but inspectors will be given leeway to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic. Inspections will be prearranged by appointments. The agency suspended routine inspections in late March as a result of the pandemic response, which closed down much of the country.

USDA/FSIS has continued to provide inspection services for eggs, meat and poultry throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, with a significant number of establishments involved in outbreak clusters and periodic shutdowns.

The “White House Guidelines for Opening Up America Again” calls for the FDA to send out investigators for on-site inspections by the week of July 20, using the COVID-19 Advisory Rating system, which utilizes state and national data about infection rates to determine the regions where enforcement can resume.

In a July 10 FDA statement Hahn noted, “resuming prioritized domestic inspections will depend on the data about the virus’ trajectory in a given state and locality, and the rules and guidelines that are put in place by state and local governments.”

One of the most significant modifications for domestic inspections in the announcement is that they will be pre-announced to FDA-regulated businesses. “This will help assure the safety of the investigator and the firm’s employees, providing the safest possible environment to accomplish our regulatory activities, while also ensuring the appropriate staff is on-site to assist FDA staff with inspection activities,” Hahn said. Previously, most inspections were unannounced.

It’s not entirely clear how FDA will use the White House guidelines to determine where they can schedule inspections. There is mention of a prioritization mechanism that will identify high-risk operations, but that has traditionally been part of FDA’s approach to inspections.

The CDC published phased guidelines for states to follow in reopening, which are referred to in the announcement. The guidelines document outlines the gating criteria for states, but published versions do not mention inspection requirements. Many states began reopening without meeting all of the gateway criteria for Phase 1, and continued to accelerate reopening activities in a way that makes it unclear which phase criteria they may have actually met when compared to the phase under which they claim to be operating.

Further complicating the safety issue is the recent rising number of COVID-19 cases that is causing some states to pause or rollback reopening activities. Since publishing the announcement, several states have emerged as new COVID-19 hot spots, including Texas, Arizona and Florida; In addition, Florida has surpassed New York in total cases. California, another food producing state heavily affected by the pandemic, is seeing a significant increase in cases and is considering issuing new shelter-in-place orders. It was recently reported that CDC has identified 21 states as “Red Zones”, with at least 11 states on the verge of surging cases.

In other words, with the virus on the rise, there may not be a significant number of inspections actually performed, regardless of whether or not inspections have technically resumed, simply because there just isn’t a safe way to send inspectors out.

The FDA has also published the “New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint”, which includes ways the agency could use technology to support compliance activities. There may be an opportunity for the FDA to implement new tools such as remote verification in lieu of onsite inspections, but that remains to be seen. Among such tools, remote audit pilots were recently completed and those results will be available for public presentation at the end of August.

In the short term, should FDA determine you are an inspection candidate, you will contacted in advance to schedule a day and time.