USDA's online complaint form to aid food safety probes

Monday - 10/15/2012, 10:56am EDT

David Goldman, Assistant Administrator for Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Download mp3

The Department of Agriculture's new online consumer complaint form could help the agency trace the root of a food safety problem.

"The consumers, in this instance, can help us by identifying problems that may signify something more significant that needs to be investigated," said David Goldman, assistant administrator for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

The Electronic Consumer Complaint Form, launched Sept. 27, defines a complaint as "an incident that involves reports of illness, injury, foreign objects, contamination (including chemical contamination), allergic reactions, and improper labeling which is believed to be associated with or caused by consumption of meat, poultry or processed egg products."

David Goldman, assistant administrator for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service

The online form is an additional complaint collection method for USDA, to bolster the meat and poultry hotline, Goldman said. The consumer complaint monitoring system receives about 700 complaints per year.

Based on the responses from the first few weeks of launching the online form, USDA is receiving about twice as many electronic complaints compared with calls, he said.

Once a product is inspected in the plant, USDA doesn't have the "eyes and ears" on the product. With the consumer feedback, USDA can compare complaints with food inspectors' findings and try to determine if a problem started at the plant, in transit or at the point of sale, Goldman said.

Currently, the hotline is answered by the agency's food safety education staff, who then translate the complaint for the inspection service. The online form, meanwhile, is overseen directly by FSIS and allows consumers to "describe their problem in their own words," Goldman said.

Faster poultry inspection

A proposed rule by USDA to let chickens undergo faster inspections is still in the rule-making phase, Goldman said. USDA wants to change the maximum poultry processing rate from 140 birds to a maximum of 175 birds per minute.

The proposed rule touched off concerns that the speedier inspections would negatively impact food safety. Consumer and public health advocates, as well as unions, have urged USDA to withdraw the proposal.

Goldman said USDA has received public comments and will issue a final rule soon.

RELATED STORIES

USDA uses Twitter to issue urgent food safety alerts

USDA unveils new online food safety tool for farms

Closing of 259 USDA offices raises safety concerns