WASHINGTON (USDA) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing a new rule that will allow establishments to label a broader range of products without first submitting the label to FSIS for approval, should it become final. Under the proposal, FSIS will continue to verify that labels are accurate, not misleading, and in compliance with all labeling features. This rule is expected to benefit consumers because it will get new products into the marketplace sooner while still ensuring that they are not misbranded. Also, by making the label approval process more convenient and cost-effective, the industry, especially smaller producers, is expected to benefit from the rule.
“It is important that we make the labeling process more effective and efficient, while still ensuring consumers have the best information available when shopping for food,” said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Undersecretary for Food Safety at the Department of Agriculture.
The rule proposes to modify the agency's generic label approval process. Under the proposal, the generic label approval process would allow companies to use new labels or modify labels without first submitting such labels to FSIS. Under the proposed generic approval process, all mandatory label features would still need to comply with FSIS regulations.
The proposed rule was posted today on the FSIS website and soon will publish in the Federal Register. The comment period will end on Feb. 3, 2012 and must be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or by mail to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), FSIS, OPPD, RIMD, Docket Clearance Unite, Patriots Plaza III, Rm. 8-164, 355 E Street, SW., Washington, D.C. 20024-3221. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the Agency name and docket number FSIS-2005-0016.
Over the past two years, FSIS has announced a several new measures to safeguard the food supply, prevent foodborne illness, and improve consumers' knowledge about the food they eat. These initiatives support the three core principles developed by the President’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG): prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery. Some of these actions include:
- Performance standards for poultry establishments for continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens. USDA expects the new standards to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses annually. This includes a tougher performance standard for Salmonella and the first ever performance standard for Campylobacter.
- Zero tolerance policy for six Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) serogroups. Raw ground beef, its components, and tenderized steaks found to contain E. coli O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 or O145 will be prohibited from sale to consumers. USDA will launch a testing program to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers.
- Test and hold policy that will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products, because products cannot be released into commerce until Agency test results for dangerous contaminants are known.
- Labeling proposals that provide better information to consumers about their food by requiring nutrition labels on single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products and by simplifying labeling language for raw meat and poultry products with added solutions that may not be apparent to the consumer.
- Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database about public health trends and food safety violations at the nearly 6,100 plants FSIS regulates.