Over the past several years the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken important steps to establish pathogen standards for some meat and poultry, but some commonly consumed products such as turkey breasts and pork chops don’t have standards, and it’s not clear how the agency decides which products to consider for new standards, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said this week.
The request for the GAO’s investigation into the pathogen standards came from members of a Senate committee. Though the US food supply is considered safe, the GAO cited a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that foodborne pathogens cause about 9 million illnesses each year, 2 million of them from Salmonella and Campylobacter.
Three main recommendations
To explore pathogen standards, GAO investigators analyzed regulations and documents, interviewed federal officials, and talked to several stakeholders.
The GAO made three recommendations to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):
- Documenting the process for deciding which products to consider for new pathogen standards
- Setting time frames for determining what standards or updates are needed for beef carcasses, ground beef, pork cuts, and ground pork
- Including information on effectiveness of on-farm practices in final guidance on controlling Salmonella for hog producers.
The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed a draft of the GAO report, and the USDA agreed with the three recommendations and described steps to address them.