To improve the safety of ground beef, the US Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”) issued a proposed rule on July 16, 2014 entitled “Records To Be Kept by Official Establishments and Retail Stores That Grind Raw Beef Products.

FSIS proposes to amend the current recordkeeping regulations (9 C.F.R. §320(a)-(b)) to specify “that all official establishments and retail stores that grind raw beef products for sale in commerce must keep records that disclose the identity and contact information of the supplier of all source materials that they use in the preparation of each lot of raw ground beef.” (emphasis added) Currently, such record keeping is voluntary and insufficient, as evidenced by continuing outbreaks linked to pathogens in raw ground beef that FSIS cannot trace back to the source.

FSIS conducted a retrospective review of 28 foodborne disease investigations from October 2007 through 2012. While the results showed progressive improvements in the number of stores that kept records and the quality of the records maintained, many retail stores and establishments still do not keep the necessary records for successful recalls. Particularly, FSIS found a lack of available information about supplier lot numbers, product codes, pack dates of source materials used to produce lots of raw ground beef and when and whether grinding equipment has been cleaned and sanitized. Without this information, FSIS has been prevented from identifying businesses that produced the source materials, the specific products responsible for an outbreak and, therefore, from accurately identifying other products that might also be adulterated.

Accordingly, FSIS proposes to amend the Federal meat inspection regulations to require that official establishments and retail stores which grind raw beef products keep records that fully disclose:

  • the names, points of contact, phone numbers, and establishment numbers of the establishments supplying the materials used to prepare each lot of raw ground beef product;
  • all supplier lot numbers and production dates;
  • the names of the supplied materials, including beef components and any materials carried over from one production lot to the next;
  • the amount of the beef component used in each lot (in pounds);
  • the date and time each lot of raw ground beef product is produced;
  • and the date and time when grinding equipment and related food-contact surfaces are cleaned and sanitized. Note that for materials purchased from a broker or distributor, the establishment number would be on the shipping container of the product.

FSIS seeks comments on the proposed rule by September 22, 2014.

Additionally, building on the proposed rule, FSIS announced new procedures that will allow the agency to trace back to its source contaminated ground beef (positive for Escherichia coli O157:H7). Under the new traceback procedures, FSIS will begin to conduct investigations at businesses whose ground beef tests positive for E. coli O157:H7 as soon as FSIS receives a presumptive positive result and the grinding facility can provide supplier information. Previously, FSIS waited until a presumptive positive test result was confirmed to begin investigations at the grinding facility, which can take two days. Further, whereas a similar investigation of the grinding facility’s suppliers would have taken place 30 days later, now it will also begin immediately. FSIS will review the soon-to-be-required establishment records to determine whether the grinding or supplying establishment’s food safety system experienced a breakdown and whether the supplying establishment shipped product that may be contaminated to other grinding facilities or further processors. If so, FSIS will take steps to have that product removed from commerce.

The improved traceback procedures will be fully implemented 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, on October 14, 2014.

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