May 31, 2006

USDA to help small meat plants bolster food safety

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department
announced a two-part initiative on Wednesday to help owners of
small meat, poultry and egg product plants improve their food
safety programs.

The plants account for 90 percent of the 6,000 federally
inspected meat, poultry and egg product plants in the nation
although their share of U.S. output is much smaller.

Officials said the new program will feature a toll-free
telephone number and a Web page to assist small operators as
well as better access to technical resources, such as education
and training material. Partnerships with industry, academia,
consumers and public health experts will be expanded.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees meat
inspection, will make employees available to meet plant
operators to learn more about their needs.

USDA also said it would make plant owners and operators
aware of its loan and loan guarantee programs, which could help
operators upgrade facilities and equipment.

By government definition, small plants have less than 500
workers but generate more than $2.5 million a year in sales.
Very small plants have fewer than 10 employees or less than
$2.5 million in sales.

Beginning in the late 1990s, USDA required meat and egg
plants to adopt the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point
system for preventing food contamination. Under HACCP, plants
identify the points during processing when contamination can
occur and take special steps to prevent it.