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AMI Petitions USDA to Establish Allowable Moisture Pickup Levels Consistent with Food Safety

Thursday, October 2, 1997

The American Meat Institute (AMI) today petitioned the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow unavoidable, incidental levels of moisture in meat and poultry as part of chilling practices that improve food safety.

Currently, poultry processors use water immersion systems to cool carcasses while meat packers use cold air chilling and cold water spray systems. Moisture pickup in poultry is permitted, while moisture pickup on red meat carcasses is not. The Institute urged the Department to issue regulations so that both products may benefit from chilling practices using water. AMI said that moisture gains in the products through water use are incidental and should be permitted at incidental levels to enhance food safety.

In its petition, AMI urged USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to promulgate a rule that establishes moisture absorption and retention requirements for meat and poultry carcasses that strives to minimize moisture retention at the time of packaging.

The Institute also said that moisture absorption should be measured in the finished product, not on carcasses as they move through the system. For example, when poultry absorbs moisture, it is generally absorbed beneath the skin. As it is further processed in smaller pieces, boneless breasts and other products, the moisture is shed, making finished product measurement a more appropriate determinant of product purchased by consumers.

In addition, AMI asked FSIS to repeal the existing requirement that poultry carcasses be chilled to 40 degrees F. within a specified time, and instead allow the company to incorporate chilling procedures into their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, which are required for every meat and poultry plant beginning in January 1998. Such a move is consistent with the Department’s initiative to make meat and poultry processors responsible for achieving food safety goals.

The Institute also said that given the minimal and incidental nature of water absorption, no labeling should be required for products that comply with the regulation. Those that exceed the limits should be required to indicate the added water on the products label.

“We urge the Department to respond rapidly to this petition,” said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “The use of water in chilling products is vital to safe meat and poultry products. Clearly, the food safety benefits of the process outweigh any economic concerns associated with unavoidable and incidental water absorption.”

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
James Ratchford
Manager, Public Affairs

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