The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that U.S. meat and poultry products offered to consumers are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly labeled. In fulfilling these responsibilities, the agency’s laboratories perform microbiological analysis of meat products, including investigations for foreign materials in the likes of metals, wood, and glass.
Prevention of this type of contamination begins on the farm or ranch where the livestock are raised. Producers of livestock have implemented their own safeguards to assure foreign materials do not enter the meat supply.
For beef, both national (USDA) and state regulatory programs work diligently to ensure domestic and imported beef, and beef by-product is the safest and highest quality beef possible.
Only wholesome, unadulterated products are eligible to bear the mark of USDA when they enter into the general commerce. In the case of foreign material contamination, the latest statistics evinces that the incidence in USDA-inspected establishments remains small: less than four hundredths of 1 percent.
If USDA inspectors find products containing foreign materials because the establishment did not properly segregate and dispose of contaminated product, inspectors have the power to take regulatory control actions by issuing non-compliance records that require the establishment to develop a written corrective action and preventive measure(s), while contemporaneously ensuring no harmful product has entered into the general commerce. In the event contaminated product does enter into commerce, establishments are advised to initiate a recall that would be announced by the USDA through the media and its website.
FSIS encourages, but does not require, meat processing establishments have detection technology available in the likes of metal detectors (ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel) and/or X-ray machines (metals, glass, wood, plastics, etc.) in order to eschew physical contamination.
USDA-inspected establishments must have supportable justification from academia studies and/or in-house validation studies regarding how the procedures they employ will detect any possible foreign materials present. If foreign material contamination occurs, inspection program personnel must verify that an establishment follows their detection, segregation, and final product disposition procedures to ensure the contamination is removed.
This is all accomplished by having mandatory Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) designed to preclude any chemical, physical, or biological hazard(s) from cross contaminating the otherwise wholesome meats.
HACCP and Prerequisite Programs
USDA inspectors verify that the HACCP requirements associated with a Prerequisite Program for foreign material are met on a continuing basis. For example, inspectors verify the requirements associated with a Prerequisite Program for foreign material in a raw ground beef process by performing verification procedures on the detection devices themselves and by reviewing the establishment’s applicable HACCP recordkeeping.
A USDA-regulated HACCP system requires that an establishment must conduct a hazard analysis to determine the food safety hazards reasonably likely to occur in the production process and identify the preventive measures that the establishment can apply to control those hazards. Historical data and customer complaints are also considered when creating a hazard analysis.
If the establishment’s detection equipment is calibrated and finds product with foreign material contamination within the levels of detection, the Prerequisite Program would be considered as operating as designed, and detection is successful (e.g., a metal detector rejects boneless beef). The establishment should evaluate the rejected product and, based on the findings of the product evaluation, determine the root cause of the contamination. Then the establishment should evaluate the incident to determine whether additional controls are needed to preclude the presence of foreign material in the future.