USDA will no longer require U.S. plants that produce egg products to have full-time government inspectors. The new rule, which impacts 83 plants in the U.S., radically decreases the amount of time inspectors will spend in egg production facilities going forward.
According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), inspectors will now visit plants only once per shift, instead of being required to be present whenever egg products are processed. Additionally, USDA will assume oversight from the FDA of additional facilities that produce egg substitutes.
USDA noted that this is the first major change to egg inspection methods since the original Egg Products Inspection Act was passed in 1970, and that the updated rule is designed to make inspections of eggs more in-line to the requirements imposed on the meat and poultry industries. “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 Paul Kiecker, FSIS administrator, in a prepared release. “FSIS is continuing to carry out its public health mission to prevent foodborne illness.”
According to the rule, egg product plants must develop and implement their own hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) systems and sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs), though FSIS will still be responsible for testing for Salmonella and Listeria in egg products. Kiecker says that this allows plants to tailor a food safety system that is best for their needs, allowing them flexibility and an incentive to employ innovative food safety practices.
Kenneth Klippen, president of the National Association of Egg Farmers, said he sees these new regulations as a way to better ensure uniformity for safety processes among all egg products plants.
While most egg producers seem to be on board with the new rule of developing their own safety protocols, some opponents believe it could make eggs less safe. One only needs to look at a similar rule in place for swine plants in which during a pilot program, Food & Water Watch determined that there was inadequate oversight and a very high violation rate for serious issues, like contamination with feces. Fears something similar could happen with egg producers developing their own safety programs therefore exist.
Additionally, in an effort to enhance the existing food safety system, FSIS will now assume 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.