FSIS Expands Small Plant Help Desk, Launches Virtual Representative for Small and Very Small Plants
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is expanding its resources for small plants by launching a virtual representative that provides continual access to information. This new tool will allow users to receive up-to-date information on frequently asked questions and communicate directly with technical experts from FSIS’ Small Plant Help Desk.
The Virtual Representative for small plants is another way FSIS is developing new and innovative ways to meet the needs of its customers. The Small Plant Help Desk is a mission-critical tool for FSIS to help owners and operators enhance their food safety practices and strengthen public health protection.
“FSIS is committed to providing helpful and timely information to small plant operators across the country, who play an essential role in building strong local food economies,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “We anticipate that inspection program personnel and the regulated industry, including small and very small plant operators and the business partners who support them, will benefit most from this valuable resource.”
FSIS inspection personnel are assigned to establishments nationwide to ensure the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, correctly labeled and packaged. With more than 90 percent of the 6,389 FSIS-inspected plants considered small or very small operations, the Small Plant Help Desk provides useful information and technical assistance to more than 2,000 callers annually. The Help Desk consists of FSIS employees who are subject-matter experts with recent experience working in meat, poultry or processed egg facilities. The Small Plant Help Desk, as required by the 2008 Farm Bill, continues to serve as a “one-stop shop” for small plant owners and operators with valuable assistance. This virtual help desk addition will allow customers to receive information at all hours on any day of the week.
In addition to operating a telephone and virtual help desk, FSIS prepares various informational materials to assist small plants, such as how to implement plans to prevent or deal with food product and food defense issues, publishes compliance guidelines to help small plants comply with new or modified FSIS regulations, and hosts workshops on new topics of interest. More information on small plant outreach is available at www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/haccp/small-and-very-small-plant-outreach.
This new virtual tool will benefit customers in every time zone in the United States and its territories. It joins two successful virtual representative services that FSIS offers – askFSIS for policy-related questions and Ask Karen for consumer food safety handling questions. With these three virtual portals, FSIS continues to modernize its service to customers and stakeholders.
Visit the Small Plant Virtual Representative at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/svsp/sphelpdesk. Questions for the Small Plant Help Desk may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-877-FSIS-HELP (1-877-374-7435).
Resources like the Small Plant Help Desk contribute to USDA” Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF) which coordinates the Department’s work to develop strong local and regional food systems. For example, Link Lab Artisan Meats credits the Small Plant Help Desk with helping to get its sausage processing facility up and running in compliance with federal food safety regulations.
USDA is committed to helping farmers, ranchers, and businesses access the growing market for local and regional foods, which was valued at $12 billion in 2014 according to industry estimates. Under this Administration, USDA has invested more than $1 billion in more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects.
Over the past seven years, FSIS has instituted some of the most significant updates to our country’s food safety system since the 1950s, leading to a 12 percent drop in foodborne illness associated with meat, poultry and processed egg products from 2009 to 2015. Throughout July, at the height of summer grilling season, USDA is highlighting these changes, introducing Americans to the men and women who are enacting them, and demonstrating the positive impacts for public health. For more information, visit USDA’s Medium entry, Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.