U.S – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) has opened a new chapter in its mission to promote equity, bolster the food supply chain, and ensure unwavering compliance with food safety regulations.
Reports stemming from the most recent meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI), convened from June 21 to 22, 2023, shed light on the agency’s plans and recommendations to engage with underserved communities more effectively.
Fostering inclusivity from the get-go
During the meeting, FSIS cast its gaze on prospective applicants for FSIS inspection, particularly those hailing from underserved communities.
The discussions revolved around the challenges these communities face in accessing FSIS information, the roadblocks to applying for FSIS inspection, strategies to raise awareness of FSIS resources, and the identification of underserved communities that could benefit from increased slaughter or processing capacity.
NACMPI’s resounding recommendation was that FSIS should craft a clear, concise guidance document. This document would serve as a guiding light, directing prospective applicants to resources for determining whether they require inspection, how to initiate the inspection application process, how the inspection process functions, and how to begin designing a production facility that aligns with regulatory requirements.
Furthermore, the committee advocated for the deployment of Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officer (EIAO) personnel to conduct on-site consultative outreach visits to prospective establishments.
The NACMPI meeting didn’t stop at prospective applicants. It also delved into the challenges faced by existing small and very small establishments already under FSIS inspection.
The focus was on understanding the hurdles impeding their success and finding ways to bolster their operations.
One of the critical barriers identified was the burden of compliance with regulations, particularly 9 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 416 and 9 CFR 417. NACMPI recognized the need for FSIS to simplify and streamline these requirements.
Building trust and transparency
Another vital aspect of the discussion was the power dynamics at play, which sometimes created a culture of fear around the FSIS inspection process. This apprehension could hinder processors from seeking federal inspection or maintaining it successfully.
To address these issues, NACMPI proposed concrete actions. It suggested unifying and standardizing food safety messages in training for inspectors and processors.
Expanding regional listening sessions, town halls, and summits was recommended to integrate small and very small industry players with the FSIS mission and streamline communication.
Creating a quarterly newsletter to keep inspection program personnel (IPP) informed of regulatory updates, resources, and more, was another suggestion. And, importantly, enhancing the capacity of the Small Plant Help Desk to provide timely support to facilities was recognized as an immediate priority.
The reports from the NACMPI meeting underscore the USDA’s commitment to ensuring that food safety and regulatory compliance extend their protective umbrella over all communities, especially those underserved.
By unifying and enhancing outreach, education, and support, FSIS aims to create a more equitable and robust food supply chain—one that benefits everyone.