The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced a initiative to provide the assistance necessary for small and very small meat-processing plant owners to improve their establishments' food safety programs.
"Plant owners, working through lenders, will be able to obtain loan guarantees, making it easier for them to gain access to commercial credit in order to upgrade facilities or equipment, which will further enhance food safety," said USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Thomas Dorr. "This initiative is a good example of USDA agencies working together to better serve the needs of consumers and industry."
The program will feature a toll free number and web page to assist small plants and provide better access to technical resources, including scientific validation materials and education and training information, delivered in new and innovative ways. Partnerships with industry, academia, consumers, federal, State, and international public health partners will be expanded and better leveraged. FSIS will assess the needs of the small and very small plants as well as evaluate the effectiveness of Agency programs designed to assist them, on a continuing basis.
"As part of our commitment to ensure food safety at all of our nation's plants, FSIS held a national series of listening sessions and has identified innovative ways for small and very small establishments to fully benefit from our safety program that is responsible for dramatic reductions in foodborne illness," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. "We will continue to enhance our outreach efforts to these plants and enlist our partners to ensure critical training, access to food safety experts and information resources are available in a format that's uniform, easily accessible and consistent."
The FSIS initiative also offers the opportunity for increased interagency collaboration. Through enhanced outreach efforts, FSIS will make plant owners and operators aware of loan programs available through USDA's Rural Business and Cooperative programs.
Small and very small plants comprise about 90% of the approximately 6,000 federally inspected meat, poultry and egg product plants in the United States. A small plant has between 10 and 500 employees and generates more than $2.5 million in annual sales. A very small plant employs fewer than 10 people or generates less than $2.5 million in annual sales.