Meat and Poultry Parasite Control Rules May Be Streamlined by USDA

Federal food regulators plan to streamline and consolidate rules designed to prevent Trichinella and other parasites in pork and other meat products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued proposed rule changes on March 18, which would eliminate redundant controls for Trichinella prevention, as a supplement to a 2001 FSIS ruling that proposed food safety standards for all ready-to-eat and all partially heat-treated meat and poultry products.

The guidelines remove provisions for the prescribed treatment of pork products. However, food producers would still be required to control for the risk of Trichinella by developing and establishing science-based controls. The changes also consolidate regulations for thermally processed and commercially sterile pork meat, including canned meat.

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According to the FSIS, the change clarifies regulatory requirements and eliminates redundant equipment descriptions, while  updating wording to reflect FSIS organizational structure and clarifying regulatory requirements.

Trichinella spiralis is a roundworm parasite that infects both humans and animals, but swine is the primary source of infected meat ingested by humans. Humans can become sick with Trichinella by eating infected meat or by consuming raw or under cooked meat products.

Nearly 400 cases were recorded each year on average since 1940, but the incidence of Trichinella has decreased to only sporadic outbreaks over past 20 years. Most of the headway was gained by improving swine raising practices.

Symptoms of Trichinella food poisoning typically begin two weeks after eating tainted pork and can last up to eight weeks. Symptoms include muscle pain, fever, swelling of the face, eyes weakness or fatigue, headache, chills, itchy skin or rash, cough, diarrhea, and constipation.

Infection Risk Higher Among Pasture-Raised Pigs

The risk of Trichinella is higher among organic pasture-raised animals that have access to rodents and wildlife infected with the parasite. Pasture raising has increased as customer demand has increased.

“Raising swine outdoors poses major risk for swine being infected with Trichinella because it increases exposure to potentially infected reservoir hosts,” according to the FSIS.

The FSIS released a compliance guide which outlined best practices focusing on the changes and highlighting the guidelines designed to help small and very small establishments to easily follow the rules.

The guidelines focus on ways to reduce the incidence of Trichinella poisoning and other parasites by employing swine production practices that eliminate the sources of exposure to this parasitic hazard. Those include getting pork from producers who participate in negligible risk compartment and certification programs that reduce the incidence.

Other prevention techniques include focusing on rodent and wildlife control programs to prevent swine exposure to infected wildlife, ensuring the integrity of swine feed sources and storage areas, insuring raw food waste is not fed to pigs, practicing good management and hygiene, and preventing cannibalism among the swine.

Controlling Trichinella can also be done after the swine has been slaughtered for meat by heating, freezing, curing, and exposing pork products to high pressure processing and irradiation.

The FSIS is asking for public comment on the proposed guidelines. The public comment period will be open for 60 days from the date the guidelines were announced.


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