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OIG Audit of FSIS finds room for improvement

OIG finds that more components of ground beef need to be tested for E. coli, as well as needle tenderized steaks.  OIG also found traceback records were lacking.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) audited Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to determine how effectively the agency was testing boxed beef items that downstream processors used for ground beef production.

Finding 1: FSIS Needs to Ensure that All Components of Ground Beef are Included in the Agency’s E. coli Testing Program

The OIG found that FSIS needs to re-evaluate its E. coli testing methodology, as it relates to the downstream processing of boxed beef products.  FSIS tests product designated as ground beef or likely to become ground beef, but they do not sample all boxed beef product. Some downstream processors grind such boxes of unsampled cuts of beef without sampling it for E. coli prior to grinding.

Finding 2: FSIS Needs to Improve How It Oversees the Grinding of Bench Trim at Retail Exempt Establishments

Similarly, “retail exempt establishments”—grocery stores, butcher shops, etc.— potentially grind their own ground beef; but unlike Federally inspected plants, FSIS does not sample and test bench trim at these establishments for E. coli. FSIS does have a program for periodically testing the final ground beef products at downstream processors and retail exempt establishments before it enters commerce.

Finding 3: FSIS Does Not Sample Tenderized Meat Products for E. coli Testing

FSIS is not testing tenderized meat products for E. coli despite several recent recalls.

Finding 4: FSIS Needs to Ensure PHIS Contains Accurate Data, so that Establishments are Correctly Sampling Beef for E. coli Testing

FSIS has recently transitioned to their new Public Health Information System (PHIS), which relies, in part; on correct profile information to accomplish such tasks as sending inspectors E. coli sampling requests. However, we found some establishments had incorrect profile information, resulting in incorrect requests for sampling. This profile error caused FSIS not to sample one establishment’s “other ground beef components” for over 4 years. However, FSIS did sample the ground product before it left the plant.

Finding 5: FSIS Needs to Ensure Processors Maintain Sufficient Records for Trace Back and Recall Purposes

Lastly, not all plants we reviewed had adequate records for tracing source material back to the originating slaughter establishment. Such information is crucial during a recall.

And, my favorite part (OIG citing sources):

Online Articles and Blogs: We reviewed sources, such as foodsafetynews.com and meatingplace.com, to stay current on relevant industry issues.

Full Audit Here.