NORTHBROOK, Ill. (FNS) -- Underwriters Laboratories, the safety-testing and conformity-assessment organization, has developed a certification program for equipment used in meat and poultry processing.
The program covers equipment included in the sanitation provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations, Article 9. With the development of the new program, UL becomes the first third-party certifier of food-processing equipment in the country to apply U.S. Department of Agriculture equipment-sanitation guidelines.
"There is a value in third-party certification to help demonstrate equipment compliance to established [federal] sanitation requirements," said Tom Blewitt, manager of UL's Environmental and Public Health Services department. "The USDA technical guidelines have a proven track record and continue to meet the need. Operators want to know that the equipment they buy will adhere to established sanitation regulations, and a UL certification in accordance with the USDA guidelines will help them to make this determination."
Demonstrating compliance will become increasingly important now that the USDA has implemented a new Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system designed to reduce the risk of foodborne illness due to meat and poultry contamination, Blewitt said. Under the HACCP system, it is the responsibility of processors to address sanitation issues as part of their HACCP plans. They must not only be able to document effective maintenance and cleaning procedures, but must also document the means by which acceptably designed and constructed equipment is being put to use in their facilities.
As supermarkets increase the processing of foods on site to create meal solutions, operators are finding that they are coming more under the scrutiny of the local department of agriculture, according to Blewitt. As a result a wide variety of equipment used, ranging from walk-in coolers, grinding machines, cutting instruments, work tables, ovens and reach-in coolers, must be included in HACCP plans, he said.
"There is a movement to bring refrigeration cases under the same requirements as restaurants, designed for cleanability and performance," he said. "Virtually everything in the meat room is a candidate for third-party certification."
UL began developing its Meat and Poultry Plant Equipment Certification Program when the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service discontinued one of its prior acceptance programs in September 1997. It was under this program that acceptance of many central kitchens and commissaries fell. With USDA requirements for prior approval of facility design and equipment specifications removed, equipment manufacturers requested that UL evaluate products for use in meat and poultry processing in accordance with USDA guidelines.
As with food-service equipment, UL will use its certification mark. "We hope this mark will be a means to assure that the equipment meets the requirements," said Blewitt. "We are basically keeping the concept of what USDA did alive, but within the HACCP environment."
UL conducts a wide array of environmental and public health safety and performance testing for products as varied as plastic pipe, food-service equipment, refrigerants, fuel storage tanks, drinking water additives and treatment units, oil/water separators and carbon monoxide detectors. To provide information on its new certification program, UL has added a Meat and Poultry page to its Web site at http:// www.ul.com/eph/meat.htm.