Food Safety Magazine

News | September 24, 2013

FSIS Chief Addresses Concerns about Safety of Processed Chicken from China

Source: USDA.gov; posted by Al Almanza, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator, on Sept. 24, 2013

On August 30th, [the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service] (FSIS) announced the results of our verification audit of China’s poultry processing inspection system, which reaffirmed the equivalence of China’s poultry processing system. This determination was made after a long and careful review by our expert auditors to ensure that China’s system for processed poultry meets the United States’ safety standards. FSIS’ core mission is food safety and our staff works hard and diligently to ensure that the U.S. food supply remains safe. Since the announcement of the audit results, our agency has received several inquiries regarding this determination so I want to take the time to explain this process and clarify any misperceptions.

Let me start with explaining what this “equivalence” determination means. If a country wants to export FSIS regulated product to the United States, as a regulatory agency, we are required to review this request and conduct an audit to determine if their food safety system meets U.S. standards. In December 2010, China submitted a formal request to FSIS that the agency evaluate China’s poultry system to assess it equivalence and thus its eligibility to export poultry products to the United States. After an extensive audit, FSIS granted China “equivalence” for processed poultry which means that China is eligible to export cooked chicken to the U.S. as long as the raw poultry is from the U.S., Canada or Chile. However, before China can begin sending cooked chicken to the U.S., they must certify plants that will process the chicken for export, and provide this list to FSIS. To date, this has not been done and China has not provided a timeframe for when they intend to begin exporting to the U.S.

While China has been granted initial equivalence for processed poultry, there are standards that the country must uphold to maintain equivalence. For example, FSIS will conduct annual reviews of the equivalency status and on-site audits to ensure that Chinese establishments are in compliance. Further, our inspectors conduct port-of-entry re-inspections for all imported products. These inspection activities focus more intently on products from countries that are just beginning to export to the United States and thus will provide direct evidence of how China’s inspection system is performing.

In March 2013, FSIS’ audit staff began the equivalence determination process for processed poultry which included:

  • A document review process, where FSIS staff examined China’s laws and regulations related to food safety to ensure they meet U.S. standards; and
  • On-site audits, where a technical team visited China to view various aspects of the inspection system, including plant facilities and equipment, laboratories, training programs, and in-plant inspection operations.

FSIS’ audit team reviewed six components of China’s food safety system: (1) government oversight; (2) statutory authority and food safety regulations; (3) sanitation controls; (4) HACCP systems; (5) chemical residue control programs, and; (6) microbiological testing programs. After a thorough assessment of these components and of the results of our on-site audits, FSIS determined that China had demonstrated that its system for processed poultry meets the United States standard for equivalency, provided that the raw poultry is from FSIS-approved sources (currently the U.S., Canada and Chile).

I visited China two weeks ago as part of our agency’s pledge to maintain an open and ongoing dialogue with the country. We believe that maintaining this dialogue is essential to China’s understanding of its responsibilities when exporting to the U.S. FSIS doesn’t compromise when it comes to food safety, and this determination to grant China equivalency for processed poultry is no exception. FSIS’ comprehensive inspection program based on equivalency, continuous monitoring and inspection at import, and system audits, are critical to protecting the health and well-being of American families. The U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, and our staff is dedicated to maintaining this status.