FSIS Receives Petition to Amend Safe Handling Statement on Meat and PoultryJune 13, 2016
By Riëtte van Laack –
On May 31, 2016, the Food Safety Coalition submitted a Petition to the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to amend regulations requiring safe food handling instructions (SHI) on certain meat and poultry products.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) authorize FSIS to mandate that meat and poultry products bear label information “to assure that . . . the public will be informed of the manner of handling required to maintain the article in a wholesome condition.” Pursuant to this authority, the FSIS has issued regulations, 9 C.F.R. §§ 381.125; 317.2(l), specifying a safe handling statement or instruction that alerts consumers that raw and partially cooked meat may contain pathogens, and detailing what are considered safe food handling practices – at least as of 1994. These regulations mandate that the label for raw and partially cooked meat and poultry include the following statements:
“This product was prepared from inspected and passed meat and/or poultry. Some food products may contain bacteria that could cause illness if the product is mishandled or cooked improperly. For your protection, follow these safe handling instructions.”
“Keep refrigerated or frozen. Thaw in refrigerator or microwave.” (Any portion of this statement that is in conflict with the product's specific handling instructions may be omitted, and a graphic illustration of a refrigerator must be displayed next to the statement.);
“Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods. Wash working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils, and hands after touching raw meat or poultry.” (A graphic illustration of soapy hands under a faucet must be displayed next to the statement.);
“Cook thoroughly.” (A graphic illustration of a skillet must be displayed next to the statement.); and
“Keep hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard.” (A graphic illustration of a thermometer must be displayed next to the statement.)
According to Petitioners, there is much evidence that these safe handling instructions are no longer sufficient.
Petitioners ask that FSIS revise the regulations to include:
- An end-point temperature for raw and partially cooked product categories as well as any “rest time” requirement;
- Instructions to use a thermometer to verify that the product has reached the recommended internal temperature;
- Information on safe handling practices to minimize risks associated with improper sanitation, handling, storage, and temperature control for meat, poultry and catfish products;
- Include the four “check your steps” (clean, cook, separate and chill) safe food handling graphics instead of the graphics currently displayed; and
- A web address for additional information on cooking recommendations.
In addition to revising the contents of the SHI, Petitioners ask that FSIS revise the regulation to mandate the use of “easily legible type located away from curved or seamed areas of packages” and use of “Use bold or large font for end-point temperatures and ‘rest time’ instructions.”
Petitioners contend that FSIS is aware of the need to revise the SHI and in fact has performed consumer studies as to consumers’ understanding of certain label statements. FSIS has recently initiated a second round of consumer perception studies. However, the Petitioners do not want FSIS to further delay revisions and ask that FSIS proceed with rulemaking now.
In addition to revising the SHI for meat and poultry, Petitioners request that FSIS issue a new regulation mandating a SHI statement for catfish. The latter request presumes that catfish will remain under FSIS inspection instead of reverting back to FDA inspection.