The U.S. government will issue new guidelines for food companies as an increase in recalls of meat and poultry products containing metal, plastic and other foreign materials, Reuters reports.
The USDA will reportedly advise foodmakers to begin internal investigations when they receive customer complaints and must notify the government within 24 hours if contaminated products are in the marketplace. The voluntary guidelines are designed to ensure companies meet pre-existing regulatory requirements.
Critics are blaming increased automation in meat processing plants for the increase in recalls, claiming that machine parts are breaking off and contaminating food. However, the meat industry says producers are reluctant to recall food until they determine whether complaints regarding foreign objects are legitimate.
Multiple consumer complains often preceded recalls, though, the number may have increased as the USDA has put more focus on ensuring that food companies and government inspectors know the requirements for recalling products.
According to Reuters, the new guidelines will advise foodmakers on how to investigate and process complaints and apply information from them to subsequent reports of contaminated products.
"Foreign matter contamination, it's a reflection on something going awry in the inspection process and the quality control process of a company," Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America tells Reuters.
Foreign materials in products is rare and many reports of it claim to be false. Often, companies need time to analyze the veracity of complaints before taking action. Reuters reports that technology has helped meat companies detect foreign materials in its products before shipment even occurs.
With the new guidelines, food companies are required to alert the USDA quickly if they receive customer complaints.