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USDA debuts online food safety consumer complaint form

September 28th, 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has unveiled a new online Electronic Consumer Complaint Form where consumers can report problems with meat, poultry, and egg products. Consumers can use the form to report illnesses, allergic reactions, injuries, improper labeling and issues with foreign objects to the Consumer Complaint Monitoring System (CCMS).

“Consumers are an important source of the information that FSIS needs to ensure that America’s supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe,” Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen says. “This new tool empowers consumers to report problems directly to FSIS, enhancing our current surveillance of the food supply and our ability to prevent foodborne illness.”

Once an incident is reported to CCMS, the agency can determine what public health implications are associated with the incident, if other people are reporting similar issues, and if FSIS inspectors have identified problems in an establishment that could have caused the issue. On a case-by-case basis, FSIS may conduct additional follow up with complainants, especially if the problem indicates a potentially widespread or severe public health hazard.

CCMS facilitates the detection of public health threats in the nation’s food supply and enables FSIS to respond rapidly to mitigate those threats. The system was created in 2001, and cases primarily have been reported to FSIS district offices, through state and local health departments, or through calls to the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-MPHotline), which is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET. The new online form, available at https://ccms.fsis.usda.gov, makes it possible for consumers to enter complaints after business hours and on weekends, and the predefined fields ensure that each incident report is thorough, accurate and in a format consistent with other entries.

Consumers who want to submit an incident to CCMS by talking to a live representative or who have food safety questions are encouraged to call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. Consumers also can “Ask Karen,” the virtual food safety representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov or via smartphone at m.askkaren.gov. Ask Karen’s live chat services are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET.

The ECCF is part of FSIS’ efforts to implement value-added business processes, methodologies, or technologies that contribute to serving its mission, as outlined in Goal 8 of the agency’s Fiscal Year 2011-2016 Strategic Plan. The plan, which can be accessed at www.fsis.usda.gov/About_FSIS/Strategic_Plan_2011-2016_Summary, will guide the agency through September 2016 in ensuring that food produced under FSIS’ authority is safe for the American public. Its eight specific, measurable goals all support three interlocking strategic themes: Prevent Foodborne Illness, Understand and Influence the Farm-to-Table Continuum, and Empower People and Strengthen Infrastructure.

Today’s action is in addition to other significant public health measures FSIS has put in place during President Barack Obama’s Administration to date to safeguard the food supply, prevent foodborne illness, and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. These initiatives support the three core principles developed by the President’s Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery. Some of these actions include:

• Test and hold policy that will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products, should the policy become final, because products cannot be released into commerce until Agency test results for dangerous contaminants are known.

• Labeling requirements that provide better information to consumers about their food by requiring nutrition information for single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products and ground or chopped products.

• Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database with information on public health trends and food safety violations at the nearly 6,300 plants FSIS regulates.

• Performance standards for poultry establishments for continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens. After two years of enforcing the new standards, FSIS estimates that approximately 5,000 illnesses will be prevented each year under the new Campylobacter standards, and approximately 20,000 illnesses will be prevented under the revised Salmonella standards each year.

Source: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)

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