Food & Drinks

USDA puts inspectors on egg “patrol” and gives egg producers more flexibility

Federal egg inspections are getting an update for the first time in 50 years, according to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The new egg inspection rule will take effect at 83 USDA-inspected eggplants as soon it is published in the Federal Register.

Egg producers, under the new rule, will be able to use food safety procedures designed to accommodate their specific plant and equipment.

The change by the Trump administration is intended to help egg producers recover from the losses they experienced during the pandemic. Food safety might be eroded by the change, according to consumer advocates.

Production of egg substitutes, which previously were regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will now fall under USDA oversight.FSIS inspectors will make one visit during each shift rather than being on-site whenever eggs are being processed.

The egg inspection changes are part of the FSIS modernization program already implemented for poultry and swine.Changes to egg inspection were first rolled out for comment in 2018.

“We feel very confident that, based on the once per shift that we have them there, we’ll still be able to verify that they’re producing safe products,” says FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker.He says FSIS personnel will “patrol” multiple plants daily.

Some consumer groups question whether a patrol system will be effective as a continuous inspection.Kiecker says the change will use inspectors more effectively. Egg producers will be responsible for implementing plans for sanitation and food safety management systems known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points.

HACCP planning puts more responsibility on egg producers to ensure they are producing safe products, according to the FSIS Administrator.

USDA said the changes in egg products inspection methods are the first since Congress passed the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA) in 1970. The Egg Products Inspection Regulations final rule aligns the egg products regulations to be consistent with current requirements in the meat and poultry products inspection regulations.

“Requiring egg product plants to develop food safety systems and procedures similar to meat and poultry requirements is a significant milestone in modernizing our inspection system,” said Kiecker. “FSIS is continuing to carry out its public health mission to prevent foodborne illness.”

Under the new rule, federally inspected egg products plants are required to develop and implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). FSIS will continue to test for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in egg products. FSIS requires that plants produce egg products that meet food safety standards and are edible without additional preparation and nothing in the final rule changes those requirements.

Under the HACCP system, plants will be able to tailor a food safety system that best fits their particular facility and equipment. Furthermore, by removing prescriptive regulations, egg products plants will have the flexibility and the incentive to innovate new means to achieve enhanced food safety.

In addition, FSIS will be assuming regulatory authority over egg substitutes and freeze-dried egg products, which pose the same risk as egg products and will be inspected in the same manner, enhancing the existing food safety system.

The agency has also realigned the regulations governing the importation and inspection of foreign egg products more closely with the regulations governing the importation of foreign meat and poultry products. FSIS will notify foreign countries of the regulatory changes. Countries that have ongoing equivalence and most countries that have requested initial equivalence for egg products already have HACCP implemented for egg products for their domestic products.

Note: This is an advance copy of the document submitted to the Office of the Federal Register and may be subject to minor changes.

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