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USDA keeps on trucking with HACCP

USDA is ready to issue a joint proposal with FDA on warehousing and distribution of packaged foods. New safety requirements could affect packaging.
FILED IN:  Machinery  > Inspection
The U.S. Department of Agriculture which has already stirred food processors into a frenzy with its HACCP proposal risks doubling the intensity of that tizzy with its upcoming proposal on safe distribution of food. That proposal will be issued by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) the USDA agency responsible for the February 3 1995 proposed rule on HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) systems. The Food & Drug Administration's participation would enable the rulemaking to cover all food not just meat and poultry which is the FSIS's area of authority. The joint advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) would cover all food shipped in airplanes trucks and other conveyances. Pat Clerkin special assistant to Tom Billy the associate administrator of the FSIS says the government hopes to issue the ANPR "expeditiously." It would include proposals for new federal regulations plus voluntary guidance. The FDA
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and USDA have already agreed "in principle" to issue a joint ANPR. But there could be "practical problems" according to Clerkin which may force one agency to go ahead without the other. If the FSIS moves forward alone then the ANPR would only apply to poultry and meat products. The role of packaging in food transportation will definitely be addressed. "We would want comments on what the significance of packaging is to the safety of foods" Clerkin states. The FSIS originally announced its intention to regulate meat and poultry transportation when it published the proposed rule on HACCP last February. The HACCP proposal envisions a major change to inspection of meat and poultry. Instead of looking for microbial contamination inspectors would look to see whether a company had an effective HACCP system--a system the FSIS would prescribe--in place and was sticking to it. That system would be based on maintaining the integrity of critical control points (CCP). Those would be any point at which food can into contact with potential unsafe conditions. Packaging can be a CCP if it prevents eliminates or reduces food safety hazards from microbiological physical or chemical hazards says Jhung Colby director of microbiology research for Perdue Farms Inc. Salisbury MD. The determination of whether packaging is a CCP can differ from company to company. There is some subjectiveness to the decision explains Colby. Forrest D. Dryden vice president of research and development for Hormel Foods Corp. Austin MN says packaging is an especially important part of the company's HACCP program for low-acid canned foods such as Spam and chili. Those foods are heat-treated and all pathogens are destroyed. Packaging is much more a critical control point for those foods perhaps than for refrigerated pasteurized foods such as franks and packaged luncheon meats. Food packagers have been vilifying the HACCP proposal in meetings with the USDA and in comments to the docket. Katie Swanson manager of microbiology and food safety at The Pillsbury Co. Minneapolis MN says she thinks HACCP programs should be voluntary "except for some products." Pillsbury opposes a wide-ranging mandatory HACCP program. Hormel's Dryden says he could support a mandatory HACCP program but only if the FSIS dismantles parts of its bureaucracy before it puts this HAACP program in place. For example Dryden says the number of inspectors should be cut dramatically and the label approval program modified. "We don't want them to keep these programs as is and layer a whole new HACCP bureaucracy on top of them" he says. The FSIS has promised to trim back the bureaucracy Dryden says. "But we have not seen any proposals yet" he adds. What the in-dustry will see soon however is "Son of HACCP" the ANPR on food warehousing and distribution. The recent history of federal attempts to regulate food transportation is hardly the stuff of legends unless one includes myths in that category. Congress passed the National Food Safety Trans- portation Act in the late 1980s. The idea was to limit circumstances where trucks which carry hazardous waste could also carry food sanitizing procedures notwithstanding. The Department of Trans- portation was supposed to set up a couple of lists that contained food items that could be carried in such trucks and food items which could not under any circumstances go in those trucks. To this day DOT has not written those lists. The law has never been enforced. The FSIS has already done some spadework on its transportation ANPR. It convened a technical advisory group to look at hazards posed to shipped meat and poultry. A report from that group is in draft form. But the report when final may be pretty sketchy. "We didn't have sufficient funds to do as much with that as we wanted to" says Pat Clerkin. c

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