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USDA launches small meat processor help-desk

The US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced the opening of its new small plant help-desk, which will provide for operators of small and very small meat, poultry and processed egg products establishments seeking help with agency requirements with direct access to knowledgeable staff specialists.

The help-desk also will provide assistance to state and local food regulatory agencies – FSIS' partners in keeping meat, poultry and egg products safe for consumers.

"USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is committed to providing assistance to businesses of all sizes that provide American consumers with access to a safe and healthy food supply," said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold R. Mande. "The small plant help-desk will help the development of small, local producers by offering a one-stop shop for questions about how to make sure their meat, poultry and processed egg products are safe, wholesome and properly labelled."

The new help-desk will support USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative by helping small processors to reduce the time and expense of dealing with agency requirements. "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" is designed to continue the national conversation about developing local and regional food systems and finding ways to support small and mid-sized producers.

It emphasises the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers, building on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides additional flexibility for USDA programs to promote local foods. More information on the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative can be found at: www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer .

The FSIS small plant help-desk will serve as a "one-stop shop" for plant owners and operators with questions. More than 90% of the 6,000 plants inspected by FSIS are small or very small. FSIS staff will assess callers' requests and provide information and guidance materials that best meet their needs. In situations where the answer is not readily available, the staff will research the issue and follow-up with the caller. As appropriate, the help-desk will provide a portal to other services, such as AskFSIS, FSIS' existing internet service offering official agency responses to inquiries on agency policy.

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