I am often asked whether or not the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) can request a recall for meat or poultry products merely because the products test positive for Salmonella. The answer to that question today is no. However, there are times FSIS can request a recall of raw meat and poultry products for Salmonella. If at any point FSIS determines there is specific product (specific lot, specific product date) in commerce making people sick, it will ask for a voluntary recall of that specific production of product, regardless of whether there is a positive test result.
What is important to understand is that for outbreak recalls, FSIS will use the same thought process regardless of whether the pathogen is considered an adulterant or not. FSIS would look for the following four factors as part of the outbreak investigation:
- There are related illnesses (an outbreak) as determined by the DNA analysis of samples from case patients;
- The evidence supports the conclusion that the likely source of the illnesses was a specific product;
- The plant produces that specific product; and
- A specific production of that plant’s product was purchased by, or available to, the case patients at the time and location of the illnesses.
If all of these criteria are met, FSIS will request a recall of the product implicated in the outbreak. In this circumstance, FSIS is not relying on a positive test result (from the product) to request the product be removed from commerce, rather they are relying on evidence that the specific product has been implicated in causing an outbreak.
In summary, today, FSIS can request an establishment to conduct a voluntary recall for products that test positive for an adulterant (e.g., E. coli O157:H7), but not for product that tests positive for Salmonella. However, in the case of a foodborne outbreak, FSIS applies the same rules to all pathogens. If the evidence supports that a specific production of product is the likely source of the illnesses in the outbreak, FSIS will request a voluntary recall (not based on test results of the product).
About Dr. Masters
Mixed in with the attorneys at OFW Law is the former USDA Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Administrator, Dr. Barbara Masters. Dr. Masters is a veterinarian who spent eighteen years with FSIS – the final three years as Acting Administrator and Administrator. During her rise to the Administrator’s position, Dr. Masters served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Office of Field Operations. While in these key leadership positions at FSIS, Dr. Masters’ primary focus was on the implementation of science-based policies for the protection of public health.