USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is expanding its resources for small plants by launching a virtual representative online knowledgebase that provides continual access to information. This new tool will allow users to receive up-to-date information on frequently asked questions and communicate directly with technical experts from FSIS' Small Plant Help Desk, which is a mission-critical tool for FSIS to help owners and operators enhance their food safety practices and strengthen public health protection.
"FSIS is committed to providing helpful and timely information to small plant operators across the country, who play an essential role in building strong local food economies," said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. "We anticipate that inspection program personnel and the regulated industry, including small and very small plant operators and the business partners who support them, will benefit most from this valuable resource."
With more than 90% of the 6,389 FSIS-inspected plants considered small or very small operations, the Small Plant Help Desk provides useful information and technical assistance to more than 2,000 callers annually. The help desk consists of FSIS employees who are subject-matter experts with recent experience working in meat, poultry or processed egg facilities. The Small Plant Help Desk, as required by the 2008 Farm Bill, continues to serve as a "one-stop shop" for small plant owners and operators with valuable assistance. This virtual help desk addition will allow customers to receive information at all hours on any day of the week.
In addition to operating a telephone and virtual help desk, FSIS prepares various informational materials to assist small plants, such as how to implement plans to prevent or deal with food product and food defense issues, publishes compliance guidelines to help small plants comply with new or modified FSIS regulations, and hosts workshops on new topics of interest. More information on small plant outreach is available at www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/haccp/small-and-very-small-plant-outreach.
This new virtual tool oins two successful virtual representative services that FSIS offers – askFSIS for policy-related questions and Ask Karen for consumer food safety handling questions. Visit the Small Plant Virtual Representative at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/svsp/sphelpdesk. Questions for the Small Plant Help Desk may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org call 1-877-FSIS-HELP (1-877-374-7435).