FSIS decides not to change safe handling instructions requested by the Safe Food Coalition

Four years ago, Thomas Gremillion of The Consumers’ Federation of America petitioned the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on behalf of the Safe Food Coalition. The petition called for regulation of FSIS revise regulations that mandate mandatory safe handling instruction (SHI) labeling for raw and partially cooked meat and poultry products.

In a May 31 decision letter, FSIS told Gremillion it was denying its motion and did not plan to make rules “at this time.”

“FSIS will continue to explore new strategies to communicate safe food handling practices to consumers. Current SHI labeling regulations will remain in place while we review research options and other strategies,” the agency’s decision reads.

The Safe Food Coalition is “not precluded from submitting a revised petition containing additional information to support the requested actions. »

The Safe Food Coalition’s petition specifically requested that FSIS update the regulations to require that the SHI label:

  • display information about thermometer use and final cooking temperatures;
  • include the “Check Your Steps” logo that identifies the four safe handling practices on the www.foodsafety.gov website – clean, cook, separate, and refrigerate – instead of the currently required graphic
  • be positioned in such a way as to ensure the legibility of the label; and
  • include a web address for additional information on safe cooking recommendations.

FSIS claims that the results of a recently published consumer study found that three experimental SHI labels containing many of the features requested in the petition performed no better than the current SHI label with respect to visual attention. and label compliance for the four safe handling instructions.

FSIS said the research also found that consumers tend to focus more on the manufacturer’s cooking instructions (MCI) than the SHI.

“Based on these findings, FSIS has concluded that instituting regulations to revise the SHI labeling regulations, as requested in your petition, would not be an effective use of agency resources, because the requested revisions would likely have a limited impact on consumer food handling behavior,” according to the decision. “Therefore, as set forth below, we have decided to dismiss your petition without prejudice.”

The National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) Food Handling Labels Subcommittee recommended in 2014 that FSIS pursue changes to the existing SHI label and conduct. consumer studies to determine the effectiveness of any revisions to the SHI label.

Six consumer focus groups that FSIS conducted in 2015 found that consumers would find certain revisions to the SHI label useful, such as recommendations to use a food thermometer and provide end point temperatures.

“Based on these findings, FSIS determined that additional research using more rigorous quantitative approaches with a broader sample of consumers was needed to help inform potential revisions to the current SHI label and assess whether a revision of the label would improve consumer food safety behaviors,” the agency said.

FSIS contracted in 2018 with RTI International and its contractor North Carolina State University (NCSU) to conduct consumer behavior research to assess whether revisions are needed to the required SHI label on all raw and partially cooked products and assess consumers’ ability to correctly discern between non-ready-to-eat (NRTE) products and RTE (ready-to-eat) products

RTI submitted its final report of the consumer research findings on September 23, 2020. A brief summary of the findings related to the SHI label is discussed in the decision letter and the full research report is posted on the RTI website. FSIS at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/food-safety-stats/consumer-research. Summary points include:

  • The first phase of the research consisted of an online experiment that was conducted with a sample of US consumers to select three variations of a revised SHI label that best caught the attention of participants.
  • The three revised SHI labels that were selected contained many of the features requested in the Safe Food Coalition’s petition, such as information on thermometer use and final cooking temperatures, updated messages and graphics on safe handling and a web address for additional safety information. cooking recommendations.
  • The second phase of the research was a behavior change study to assess the effectiveness of the three revised SHI labels versus the current SHI label on study participants’ adherence to recommended safe handling instructions.
  • The behavior change study included a meal preparation observation experiment, an eye tracking study, and post-survey interviews with study participants.

The decision letter says; “The results of the behavior change study showed that the three revised labels, which as noted above contained many of the features requested in your petition, performed no better than the current SHI label. with regard to visual attention and adherence to labels for the four safe handling instructions.”

“While a revised label was more effective in encouraging proper handwashing, it did not influence other behaviors. The study also found that participants tended to spend more time looking at hand washing instructions. manufacturer cooking (MCI) than the SHI label, and they tended to look at the MCI before looking at the SHI,” he added.

Also on the petition front last week, FSIS released additional comments on the Northern Goose Processors petition. He asks for a change standard for the definition of “Ready-to-Cook Poultry”, to allow acceptance of production and importation of Young Chinese Goose Head-on without requiring religious exemption.

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