FST Professor Ahmed Yousef talks about the proposed federal changes and how they'll affect egg processors.
By JD Malone
The Columbus Dispatch
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed changes to inspection regulations at egg processing plants, which will affect a half dozen operations in Ohio.
Under the proposal, egg processors would now need to develop what are known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points systems and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, common practices in much of the food-processing industry, including among egg processors.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service hopes new regulations will better align egg processors — facilities that break eggs and produce liquid or dried egg products — with meat processors and make inspections more efficient by standardizing inspection criteria across industries.
Ohio, the second-largest egg producing state behind Iowa, has six processing plants that would need to adapt to the new rules, according to the USDA.
At first glance, the changes could be a step in the right direction, said Ahmed Yousef, professor of food microbiology and a food safety expert at Ohio State University.
“It seems that regulations covering egg-processing facilities are far behind what has been implemented in poultry and meat facilities,” Yousef said. “It’s timely. Maybe it should have happened sooner.”
The effects of the rule changes, which came as something of a surprise, are not entirely known yet. The 254-page report issued by the USDA will take time to figure out, said Jim Chakeres, vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association.
“The proposal was just released, and it appears to be very complex,” he said. “We are going to need to take some time to study and review it.”
The clock has started on a 120-day comment period, after which the USDA will make a decision on the rules.
The egg industry is vast, and eggs are in all manner of foods. The U.S. produces more than 90 billion eggs a year, and each American consumes more than 250 annually, according to the USDA.
The Trump administration has made it a focus to peel back regulations on all sorts of industries. The rule change appears to scale back the role of government inspectors at egg processors and allows the plants to self-regulate many areas, which the USDA argues will save money and let the industry be more innovative.
“As we continue to modernize inspection systems and processes, we are committed to strengthening consistency across the services that (food-safety) personnel carry out for the consuming public,” Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety, said in a press release. “This proposed rule will ensure the same level of inspection and oversight of all regulated products as we carry out our public health mission.”
The new rules also eliminate certain steps and checks, such as reviews and some permit requirements for new building designs and equipment purchases.
Yousef thinks much of what he understands of the changes might be favorable for the industry, yet he cautions that eggs remain sensitive to contamination.
“I am for less regulation,” he said, “but regulation has a place to keep us safe.”