Around the Table – September 2021

Around the Table header

Welcome to "Around the Table"

Around the Table is produced by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (MDARD) Food and Dairy Division to share important regulatory updates and program information. The newsletter will be shared periodically via email and is also available on the department’s website. Article suggestions and feedback are welcome at

MDARD’s COVID-19 Protocols Protect Staff and Industry

MDARD’s Food Safety and Inspection Program staff continued to conduct food safety evaluations and other activities since the beginning of the pandemic. While the strategies have changed over time, one factor remains paramount: the safety of MDARD staff and our stakeholders.

During the early months of the pandemic, inspectors conducted mission-critical, routine inspections and for-cause investigations, and added virtual inspections and food safety phone interviews to the evaluation tool kit.

Masking, social distancing and most importantly, vaccination are the best ways to reduce transmission of this virus.

As COVID-19 mitigation strategies continue to evolve, MDARD’s response will change as well.

If you have questions about how to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in your establishment, please see the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) guidance and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) information. Visit MDARD’s COVID-19 webpage for addition information and resources.

September is Food Safety Education Month!

September is National Food Safety Education Month -- a perfect time to remember that each of us plays an important role in keeping food safe and to review your safe food handling practices with your employees. This means:

  • Paying close attention to personal hygiene especially hand washing;
  • Keeping food preparation and storage areas clean and sanitized;
  • Maintaining temperature control for safety; and,
  • Properly discarding food that is no longer wholesome or past its expiration date.

Throughout the month, MDARD will share food safety information on its social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - @michdeptofag). Feel free to share this information with your followers. For more information on National Food Safety Education Month, visit

New Food Inspection Software Coming Soon

MDARD’s Food Safety and Inspection Program is developing new inspection software to better support the food inspection staff and increase efficiency. The new system, deemed ‘FIRST’ for Food Inspection Regulatory System Technology, is a web-based system with off-line functionality to support staff when an internet connection is not available.

The FIRST system will automate internal processes, integrate with other MDARD systems, and allow for more efficient use of inspector time. This new system will reduce the amount of time and paperwork required for licensing and allow firms to pay for licenses online.

FIRST will also allow firms demonstrating higher levels of compliance to see inspectors less frequently, allowing staff to concentrate on firms needing more assistance.

As part of the transition to the new system, inspection reports are being reformatted to be easier to read and understand. Many inspection reports normally requiring MDARD to process a Freedom of Information Act request will be available on the internet via a publicly accessible portal.

FIRST is being implemented in phases. Currently, newly licensed firms are being inspected using the system. Full implementation, including integrations with the other mentioned MDARD software systems, is expected early next year.

MDARD Celebrates 100 Years of Service

On July 1, 2021, MDARD marked an important milestone: the 100th anniversary of the department’s creation. Then known as the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the department was created by Act 13, Public Acts of 1921, to promote the agricultural interests of the State of Michigan, effectively transferring powers from existing boards, departments, and commissions on July 1, 1921.

Throughout its 100-year history, MDARD has seen many changes, from technology, regulations, the scope of its programs, and more. In 2011, the department’s mission was expanded to include rural development to improve the lives and livelihoods of Michigan’s rural population.

MDARD and Michigan’s food and agriculture industry are stronger than ever thanks to the dedication and commitment to excellence of our employees, food and agriculture businesses, and partners in academia and local and federal government who are committed to producing a safe, abundant food supply and investing in innovations in every facet of agriculture.

Michigan’s food and agriculture industry has a total $104.7 billion overall impact on the state’s economy annually and employs 17.2 percent of the state's workforce, approximately 805,000 people.

Throughout the coming year, MDARD will celebrate the department, its employees and programs, and Michigan’s food and agriculture industry with a series of events, activities, social media features, podcasts and more. Follow MDARD on its social media channels, @MichDeptofAg, or visit to share in the celebration.

Emergencies Happen. Be Prepared!

Is your firm prepared for an event that might adversely affect your business and employees? Recent storms and flooding in Michigan emphasized the need for an all-hazards preparedness plan. MDARD inspectors routinely deal with floods, fires, and other emergency events in the normal course of their work. For most firms, however, these events are low-frequency, high-risk events. Pre-planning for emergencies can reduce the impact to your business.

MDARD’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP) booklet is available and provides bulleted, concrete steps to take in the event of emergencies. The EAP booklet is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic.

Your MDARD inspector is an important resource available to help you plan for and respond to any adverse event. The Michigan Food Law requires food establishments to contact MDARD in the event of a fire, flooding, accidents, explosions, or other disaster, and requires operations cease if an imminent or substantial hazard may exist. Having a plan in place can allow you to resume operations quickly in these events. You can contact your inspector directly or call MDARD’s Customer Call Center at 800-292-3939, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Make emergency planning a priority for your business. It doesn’t take a huge time commitment to create basic response plans and ensure your entire staff, from the person at the register to the regional manager, know what to do in the case of an emergency. Your firm’s team is the key to mitigating damage to your business. 

Manufactured Food Standards and FDA Contract Inspections

Have you ever wondered what your MDARD food inspector was talking about when they notified you a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contract inspection was going to be performed at your food establishment? MDARD has a contractual agreement with FDA to conduct inspections on their behalf in manufactured food facilities and warehouses in Michigan to meet federal inspection goals. Michigan adopted into law many of the Code of Federal Regulations that FDA enforces and MDARD already has ‘boots on the ground’ at these facilities, making the inspection process more efficient.

One of the requirements of the FDA inspection contract is to maintain full conformance with the Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards (MFRPS). The purpose of MFRPS is to facilitate MDARD’s participation in the national Integrated Food Safety System, which provides the vision, guiding principles and key components of a coordinated approach to food safety. This integrated approach includes the implementation of seamless partnerships and operations among federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal agencies, as well as academic, foreign, industry and consumer stakeholders (strategic partners), to achieve the public health mission of realizing a safer food supply. Reducing the number of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. is the over-arching goal for FDA, MDARD and the food and agriculture industry.

MFRPS establish a uniform basis for measuring and improving the performance of manufactured food regulatory programs in the U.S. to reduce foodborne illness. Just like food safety plans many manufactured food facilities have implemented, MDARD must implement plans that address 10 standards, which cover things like outbreak and hazards response, training, and laboratory support.

One way to improve our performance is to be audited. Every other year, MDARD is audited by FDA in the same fashion as the department conducts preventive controls inspections of manufactured food facilities. FDA auditors complete a comprehensive review of our policies and procedures as they relate to each standard and then identifies the strengths and weaknesses. Any non-conformance with a standard requires a corrective action plan to correct the deficiency and prevent it from recurring in the future.

The MFRPS program is built upon the premise that regulatory inspection agencies in full conformance with the standards have training and inspection programs that meet the same requirements as FDA has for their inspection programs. The uniformity in training and inspection programs for MDARD and FDA leads to quality risk-based food inspections conducted by a properly trained work force for both agencies. MDARD continuously strives for conformance with MFRPS standards and has met the requirements for conformance to all 10 standards for the past 3 years.

So, Your Firm Has Been Selected for Sampling…What Does That Mean?

The main objectives of sampling are to:

  • Identify foods that could pose a risk to public health by a biological, chemical, or physical hazard; and/or,
  • Assess the level of contamination within a facility using environmental sampling.
  • Identify misbranded foods

MDARD food inspectors conduct periodic, scheduled sampling activities that are dispersed across the state. Additionally, inspectors may sample a specific food product or processing environment related to a foodborne illness outbreak.

Samples are analyzed for microbial pathogens and chemical properties:  

  • Microbial samples are tested for pathogens such as Salmonella spp., E Coli spp. and Listeria spp.
  • Chemical analysis may include percent fat in ground meat, speciation of fish, pH, and water activity, to name a few.

Samples are tested at MDARD’s accredited Geagley Laboratory, located in East Lansing. The laboratory analysis indicates whether a sample meets regulatory standards.

Test results may require action by MDARD or the FDA, including traceback and trace-forward investigations, and additional sampling may be required. MDARD works with the firm to identify problems at the facility or in the supply chain. Some test results identify the need for the food establishment to initiate a product recall. Each situation is unique and involves a coordinated effort among local, state and federal agencies and the food establishment.

Whole Genome Sequencing and Outbreak Identification

When scientists want to use an identifier for a person, they will frequently utilize their fingerprint. Fingerprints can be used to connect an object a person touched to the person who touched it.  Foodborne bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria and Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) have a genetic fingerprint. Food safety scientists, laboratorians and epidemiologists refer to this as Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS).

WGS is a revolutionary technology that has become a valuable tool to connect disease organisms from ill people to outbreaks and to contaminated food. It is a highly specific laboratory test performed on all samples of reportable pathogens from sick people and food samples analyzed by public health laboratories, including MDARD’s Geagley lab. Other labs, including government and academic laboratories in other states, nationally and internationally will also conduct this highly specific testing. Laboratories share the WGS fingerprints of the bacteria from sick people and contaminated food products with national and international databases.

Epidemiology is the key to the fingerprint information gathered through WGS. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) requires reportable illnesses be reported to local health departments who then interview ill people (cases) for general information and food history.  Epidemiologists use this information to look for common foods consumed among cases. WGS is used to connect individual patients and groups of patients (outbreaks) with foods by fingerprinting the bacterial pathogens found in the people and the food.

When lab scientists enter the WGS fingerprints into these databases, they are then able to see which other bacteria from sick people or contaminated food are similar or identical from all over the country and potentially the world. For instance, a sick person may submit a sample at their doctor’s office that comes back positive for salmonella bacteria. This specimen is forwarded to the state laboratory for WGS fingerprinting and entered in the database. If this sequence is genetically similar to a food product sample, epidemiologists and food regulators will follow up and determine if this food sample may be the cause of the person’s illness. Alternatively, if a food is found to be contaminated, it will also be sequenced (fingerprinted) and compared to the database to look for other contaminated food as well as other sick people. WGS has helped increase the speed and accuracy of identifying the cause and scope of foodborne illness outbreaks which in turn has led to a faster response. This will impact the number of people who get sick from implicated food products.

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After Hours Emergencies: 517-373-0440
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