- The U.S. Department of Agriculture will no longer require a full-time on-site inspector at plants that make egg products. Instead, according to rules that will be published in the Federal Register this week, an inspector will need to come to facilities at least once per shift.
- The new regulations also bring inspection of egg substitutes and freeze-dried eggs under USDA. Inspections of both of these products have previously been under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration.
- This is the first change to the federal rules governing egg inspection since Congress first passed the Egg Products Inspection Act in 1970, USDA said in a press release. It brings egg product inspection to parity with meat inspection.
This regulatory change could go a long way toward modernizing the egg product industry and, according to comments filed when it was first proposed in 2018, is unlikely to have an adverse impact on food safety.
The plants that these regulations apply to aren't those that handle shell eggs sold to grocery stores and foodservice establishments, but those that make liquid "breaker" eggs. These are eventually turned into a variety of egg-related products or sold in liquid form for foodservice. According to Reuters, this will impact 83 plants.
The purpose of the change is to streamline regulations that have been unchanged since 1970, but are for an industry that has evolved and expanded since then. The size of the breaker market has dramatically increased since the regulations on inspections were first passed. According to a paper written for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, 11% of all eggs produced in the U.S. at the time were breakers. Today, according to the Iowa State University Egg Industry Center, it's closer to 31%.
As the breaker market has grown, so have standards for food safety across the industry. The new regulations take out some of the overarching safety rules that were in the 1970 law, and allows plants to customize them to their needs. Facilities now must create their own Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems, put sanitation procedures in place and bring all of their systems up to date.
When the original regulations about egg product inspections were written, HACCP was a fairly new concept. The internationally recognized safety control standards were born out of the space program in the late 1950s, and few food manufacturers were using HACCP in 1970.
Today, however, HACCP systems are nearly universally used by food manufacturers. According to comments on the new egg regulations from the United Egg Association — the trade association for liquid, frozen and dried egg products in the U.S. — most egg product plants had HACCP and the heightened sanitation procedures in place in 2014. Likewise, the National Association of Egg Farmers commented that 71 of its 77 egg product plants have HACCP systems in place. Kenneth Klippen, National Association of Egg Farmers president, wrote the new regulations would ensure uniformity for safety processes among all egg products plants.
Few comments filed when these regulations were proposed bring up safety concerns associated with losing the full-time USDA inspectors in plants. The United Egg Association's comments say that as long as plants are following their HACCP systems, the full-time inspectors likely aren't needed to ensure safety of products. The shifting of egg substitutes and freeze-dried eggs to be under USDA inspection also was supported by many comments. Since many egg substitutes are partially made from eggs, they have the same kinds of food safety threats as actual egg products.
When President Trump was elected, he pledged to cut government regulations thought to be too excessive. This is one of the less controversial rule changes dealing with food. Others include speeding lines up in poultry processing plants and making changes to swine slaughtering inspection. The relative quiet on this proposed change shows that this regulatory change does what is intended: updating the way the industry is regulated to reflect the standard safety regulations of today.