For the first time in 50 years, the egg industry will see a change in inspection methods. Since 1970, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors have operated under the 1970 Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA); but with the passage of the Egg Products Inspection Regulations final rule, inspections will now be more aligned with those of meat and poultry. While the new rule requires federally inspected egg products plants to develop and implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), it removes prescriptive regulations, providing egg producers with more flexibility in tailoring their food safety system to fit their facility and equipment. FSIS also intended the modernized regulation to incent facilities to “innovate new means to achieve enhanced food safety.” A key aspect of the rule is the change in the Agency’s interpretation of “continuous inspection,” with inspectors now checking in to a plant “at least once per shift” rather than being continuously present – as at meat and poultry plants. While the change is said to be a way of easing government regulation, it has led to pushback from some food safety and consumer groups, who feel it may lead to a degradation of food safety. However, USDA stated that the new rule does not change requirements for egg products to meet food safety standards or for pasteurized egg products to be edible without additional preparation, and FSIS will continue to test for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in egg products. It also extends FSIS regulatory authority to egg substitutes and freeze-dried egg products (previously under FDA jurisdiction), which, it says, “pose the same risk as egg products and will be inspected in the same manner.” TAG’s recommendations have always been for all food facilities to do more than the minimum, to go beyond regulation to implement best practices in food safety focused on your particular product and environment. While an extra set of eyes can certainly be helpful, no establishment should be relying on a regulator’s “policing” to ensure its food safety. I’d say the USDA’s modernization rule is putting the onus onto egg producers – giving you the opportunity to show consumers that you do put them first, that you are focused on food safety, that having an inspector check in once a shift rather standing watch all day will make no difference in your production of safe eggs. Just to round out the explanation of the rule, a few more key points are that it:
- Extends the alignment of domestic egg product inspections with those of meat and poultry to the regulations governing the importation and inspection of foreign egg products.
- Updates labeling requirements, allowing for generic approval as part of the prior label approval system for egg products, but making requirements for shell eggs consistent with those of FDA.
- Requires special handling instructions on egg products that require special handling to maintain their wholesome condition
- Eliminates the requirements for FSIS prior approval of egg products plant drawings, specifications, and equipment.
- Changes the interpretation of the requirement for continuous inspection and eliminating the unnecessary exemptions from continuous inspection.
- Retains the definition of “eggs of current production,” (although elimination of this was proposed). Egg products produced from edible shell eggs of other than current production must still be clearly and distinctly labeled, near the common or usual name of the product, that they are produced from eggs more than 60 days old.