This article originally ran in the January/February 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.

The Food Safety Update section of Food Manufacturing is designed to offer our readers insight into the state of food safety concerns across the industry. We received hundreds of responses to this month’s survey on meat, poultry and seafood processing.

Food safety is an important consideration across the food processing spectrum, but meat, poultry and seafood processors face especially stringent regulatory standards. As food safety regulations change — with 2011’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and, later, the FDA’s new food safety rules, proposed this January — the stringent standards that have bolstered food safety in meat processing facilities could act as examples for other manufacturers looking to beef up their processes. For this reason, we’ve asked meat, poultry and seafood processors about their own food safety practices and what they see for the future of food safety.

The FSMA has made Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) planning and other food safety protocol — already mandatory in seafood and meat processing facilities — mandatory across all food manufacturing segments. We asked meat, poultry and seafood processors: “Do you think this is an appropriate change?” 95.2 percent of respondents reported believing that “all food segments should be held to the same high standard,” with only 4.8 percent responding that “meat, poultry, seafood and juice have unique challenges that make higher standards necessary.” None of the respondents to this survey reported believing that food safety protocol should be left up to the discretion of the individual processor and its customers.

This response coincides with another that shows 100 percent of survey respondents believe the “regulatory guidance for food safety planning in meat and seafood processing facilities is appropriate to address the specific challenges and critical control points associated with processing.” Indeed, much of the data we’ve collected across the food industry tells us that, while frustrated with many of the regulatory burdens placed on manufacturers, food processors — in very high numbers — support strict regulatory oversight of food safety practices.

In fact, 90.5 percent of survey respondents reported that the presence of USDA officials in meat, poultry and seafood processing facilities “increases food safety,” while 9.5 percent see “no impact on food safety.” No respondents reported seeing a decrease in food safety due to the presence of USDA inspectors. When asked to expand upon this topic, one respondent noted the need for “increased inspection,” while another stated: “There are always operations that will try to push the limits. Having inspection provides oversight at those operations.” Still another respondent observed that “since USDA officials are present in meat, poultry and seafood processing facilities there is a higher standard for safety (and quality). Someone is physically present to ensure the safety of the food and that, in turn, makes it [safer].”

This broad-based support for USDA oversight and inspection, however, doesn’t mean meat, poultry and seafood operators don’t see room for improvement. As seen in the pie chart at left, though 90.5 percent believe the presence of USDA inspectors in facilities increases foods safety, only 68.4 percent think the program is cost-effective. One reader noted: “Any plant operating under an effective and functional HACCP program should mitigate the need for constant regulatory oversight. An effective HACCP program that is properly implemented and managed, combined with periodic regulatory audits of the program, can be very effective.”

And like the rest of the food industry, meat, poultry and seafood processors take HACCP planning seriously. As seen in the chart above, meat processors utilize a variety of resources when writing, implementing and revising HACCP plans. When asked about the frequency of HACCP revision, survey respondents reported:

  • HACCP plans are a living document, constantly open to revision—47.6%
  • Once per year—33.3%
  • Less frequently than once per year—14.2%
  • Twice per year—4.8%

With broad support for comprehensive HACCP planning and strong regulatory oversight, meat, poultry and seafood processors are committed to keeping food safe for consumers.