Almost seven years ago, the National Chicken Council (NCC) petitioned the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to adopt regulations establishing labeling requirements for not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) stuffed chicken breast products that may appear to be ready-to-eat (RTE) and to issue a Compliance Guideline for developing and communicating validated cooking instructions for such products.
The NCC is the trade association in the United States that advocates for the companies that raise and process chickens for meat, which are called broilers.
The NCC’s petition said it is “increasingly aware that some consumers may be uncertain of the proper handling and cooking methods for NRTE stuffed chicken breast products that may appear RTE, and the proposed measures are necessary to ensure proper handling and cooking of these products.”
This past week, the NCC’s senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs, Ashley B. Peterson, submitted a supplement updating its 2016 petition to FSIS for its proposed regulatory changes.
“NCC remains aware that some consumers may be uncertain of the proper handling and cooking methods for NRTE stuffed chicken breast products that may appear RTE, and the proposed measures are necessary to ensure proper handling and cooking of these products” the Feb. 25, 2022 supplement says.
Peterson said FSIS has demonstrated that adding information to labels, such as warning statements and validated cooking instructions, is the appropriate way to address products when the agency believes that consumers may need additional information to ensure they are consuming the product safely.
“We agree with this approach,” her letter says. “NCC has long advocated for additional labeling to address consumer confusion related to these products and has worked with its members to develop guidelines for such labels. This labeling would clearly inform consumers that these products are raw and require proper cooking while providing specific and uniform instructions on how to cook the products.
NCC has drafted proposed regulatory text establishing the language and prominence requirements that have been shown to be effective in increasing consumer perception and understanding of warning statements. NCC is confident that these proposed labeling regulations would inform consumers
The supplemental petition says FSIS conducted a Food Safety Consumer Research Project titled “Meal Preparation Experiment on Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts,” which was published in September of 2020. According to the results, consumers often do not pay attention to safe handling instructions required by regulations, yet they are more likely to look at the manufacturer’s cooking instructions.
Nearly all participants in this study reported reading the instructions on the package and the majority of participants believed that the product was raw or partially cooked. Given these findings, it is of upmost importance that labels are clear and provide appropriate information and instructions on how to properly cook these products.
The National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI) had a public meeting in September 2021 and specifically discussed these NRTE stuffed chicken breast products that may appear RTE. The subcommittee was charged with the following questions:
- Given FSIS’ consumer research findings and an open multistate Salmonella Enteritidis illness outbreak, should FSIS re-verify that companies continue to voluntarily label these products as raw in several places on the label and include validated cooking instructions?
What, if any, actions can FSIS take to prevent and reduce illnesses associated with the handling or consumption of these NRTE products? For example, should FSIS:
- Conduct exploratory sampling for pathogens and/or indicator organisms in these and other similar raw, stuffed or non-stuffed partially processed products?
- Require establishments to apply a lethality treatment to ensure that all products are RTE?
- Sample these products for Salmonella because consumers customarily undercook them?
- Require establishments that produce these products to reassess their HACCP plans, in light of outbreak data?
- Conduct targeted consumer outreach? If so, please provide some ideas on the best approaches.
The NACMPI subcommittee concluded, in summary, that FSIS should reverify the labeling and validated cooking instructions for these products. In addition, it was recommended that labels should include language warning consumers not to use microwaves or air fryers if validated cooking instructions are not provided for these methods and cooking the product to a minimum of 165 degrees F as measured using a meat thermometer.
Moreover, the subcommittee discussed the NCC petition submitted in 2016 and recommended adoption of mandatory labeling requirements for this product category and that FSIS publish a compliance guide on validated cooking instructions for these products.
Also this past week, FSIS responded to the National Chicken Council’s Feb. 25 letter.
“The letter supplements the NCC’s 2016 petition requesting that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) adopt regulations establishing labeling requirements for not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) stuffed chicken breast products that may appear ready-to-eat (RTE) and to issue a Compliance Guideline for developing and communicating validated cooking instructions for such products,” wrote Melissa Hammar, acting director of regulations development at FSIS’s Office of Policy and Program Development.
Hammer said NCC’s petition, along with the supplement, were referred to the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development for review (petition number 16-03. OPPD). The supplement now under review included updated regulatory language.