Summary of Food Safety Programs
The Food Safety Division works to ensure a safe, wholesome and secure food supply. The division enforces Wisconsin’s food safety and labeling laws. The division licenses and inspects over 30,000 food establishments, and supervises local government inspection of others.
The Food Safety Division regulates the entire food chain, from the agricultural producer to the consumer. That permits a comprehensive approach to food safety issues affecting producers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers.
Milk and Dairy Products
The Food Safety Division regulates Wisconsin’s $20 billion dairy industry, one of the most important industries in the state. The division works to ensure that Wisconsin dairy products are safe and wholesome. Regulation protects consumer health, promotes consumer confidence, and makes it possible for Wisconsin to sell its famous dairy products in interstate commerce.
Dairy Production and Processing
The Food Safety Division licenses, regulates and inspects the following dairy operations to ensure compliance with food.
- Dairy farms (11,000 Grade A farms and 2,000 Grade B farms).
- Dairy plants.
- Milk haulers and distributors.
Dairy Product Testing
The dairy industry constantly tests milk and dairy products for safety and quality. Test results also affect the prices that dairy plants pay farmers. The Food Safety Division establishes required minimum test standards and frequencies, and monitors compliance. The division certifies testing laboratories and licenses the following individuals to test milk or dairy products:
- Bulk milk weighers and samplers (milk haulers).
- Milk and cream testers (lab analysts).
- Buttermakers and cheesemakers.
Dairy Product Safety
The Food Safety Division:
- Monitors dairy industry testing for bacteria, drug residues and other potential contaminants in milk and dairy products.
- Checks pasteurization equipment and procedures. Effective pasteurization is critical for the safety of milk and other dairy products.
- Monitors dairy plant operations to keep adulterated milk out of the food supply. In 2009, Wisconsin dairy plants dumped over 7 million pounds of milk contaminated with animal drug residues. This amount, though seemingly large, represents less than 1/10 of one percent of all the milk produced in Wisconsin in 2009.
Grade A Milk and Fluid Milk Products
Milk and other fluid milk products (like sour cream and yogurt) must comply with national Grade A
standards contained in the Interstate Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO). Wisconsin must comply with the PMO in order to ship milk and fluid milk products in interstate commerce. Products distributed for fluid consumption must:
- Be produced by Grade A dairy farms and Grade A dairy plants.
- Be pasteurized prior to sale or distribution, to destroy harmful pathogens.
- Comply with other Grade A requirements.
Wisconsin has about 11,000 Grade A dairy farms and 2,000 Grade B dairy farms. Grade A farms account for 96% of all Wisconsin milk production. Under the PMO, DATCP must inspect Grade A farms at least twice a year (even if the milk from those farms is used to produce non-fluid products, such as cheese). That inspection mandate consumes about 30% of DATCP’s entire food safety inspection force (not counting meat inspectors).Back to top
Cheese and Other Non-Fluid Dairy Products
About 85% of Wisconsin’s milk production is used to make cheese. Most Wisconsin cheese is made from Grade A
milk, but cheese may also be made from Grade B
milk. Under federal law, most cheese must be made from pasteurized milk unless it is aged for 60 days or more. DATCP inspects Grade B
farms less frequently than Grade A
farms. Grade B
standards are slightly less stringent than Grade A
Dairy Product Grading and Labeling
The Food Safety Division regulates dairy product grading and labeling (including rBST labeling), to ensure that buyers get what they pay for. There are special grading programs for cheese and butter (see Food Grading below).
Food Processing and Distribution
Wisconsin has one of the nation’s largest food processing industries. The Food Safety Division licenses, regulates and inspects over 2,000 food processing and storage facilities including:
- Canning factories.
- Frozen food processing plants.
- Fish processing plants.
- Egg processing and packing plants.
- Wholesale bakeries and confectioneries.
- Soft drink and water bottling plants.
- Other plants that process or package food or beverages.
- Food warehouses.
Unsafe retail food practices can cause serious food-borne disease outbreaks. To protect consumers, the Food Safety Division licenses, regulates and inspects retail food stores (including grocery stores, delicatessens, bakeries, confectionaries and ice cream shops).
The division works closely with the Department of Health Services (DHS), which licenses restaurants. The 2 agencies have adopted uniform rules for all retail establishments, based on the federal model food code. They also coordinate licensing and inspection to avoid duplication.
Currently, 37 cities and counties license and inspect retail food stores as agents for DATCP, and 50 cities and counties license and inspect restaurants as agents for DHS. DATCP and DHS set standards for local programs, train and assist local staff, and evaluate local performance.
DATCP and DHS keep local agents abreast of food safety issues, and work to ensure consistent application of food safety laws. They also work closely with local agents on food safety emergencies. Back to top
The Food Safety Division enforces Wisconsin’s meat and poultry inspection laws. The division works to ensure that meat is safe, wholesome and free of disease. The division enforces meat labeling requirements, and works to keep diseased animals and inedible products out of the food supply.
Wisconsin’s meat inspection program must be equal to the federal program administered by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Food Safety Division regulates meat establishments and related businesses including:
- Slaughter and processing plants (except those inspected by USDA).
- Rendering plants.
- Animal food processing plants.
- Dead animal collectors.
- Businesses that buy, sell or transport meat.
The Food Safety Division performs the following meat inspection functions:
- Inspects animals and carcasses before and after slaughter (domesticated food animals and most captive game animals).
- Inspects slaughtering and processing plants.
- Reviews hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) plans, and monitors regulatory compliance with the plans.
- Investigates law violations, including sales of unwholesome or misbranded meat.
- Monitors businesses that handle dead or diseased animals.
- Samples and tests meat and meat products.
Under a recent federal law change, state-inspected meat establishments will soon be able to sell their meat products in interstate commerce (until now, only federally-inspected establishments could sell across state lines). This welcome change will open new markets to small Wisconsin meat establishments, but may add to DATCP’s inspection workload.
The Food Safety Division responds to food emergencies, including food-borne disease outbreaks and toxic contamination incidents:
- The division coordinates food recalls and other emergency responses. The division works with consumers, affected companies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state and local health departments, the news media and others.
- The division helps investigate animal disease outbreaks and “toxic response” incidents that may pose a threat to the human food chain.
Food Advertising and Labeling
The Food Safety Division reviews food labels, and investigates deceptive food advertising and labeling. The division checks to ensure:
- Accurate product identification.
- Proper health and nutritional labeling.
- Truthful food advertising and labeling.
Food Monitoring and Hazard Control
The Food Safety Division works with the food industry to ensure that food is safe and wholesome. The division:
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- Helps food businesses design effective hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) systems.
- Establishes specific hazard control standards, where necessary.
- Checks performance of food safety systems.
- Samples and tests food samples, to identify possible health threats and labeling violations.
- Tests suspect food and facilities.
Public Health Lab Certification
The Food Safety Division certifies laboratories that test milk, food or water for compliance with public health standards prescribed by federal, state or local laws. The division spells out certification standards by rule.
The Food Safety Division audits industry grading of commodities such as cheese, butter and eggs to ensure that buyers get what they pay for. The division licenses butter and cheese graders, and establishes uniform grading standards.
Food Complaints and Investigations
The Food Safety Division investigates complaints related to food-borne illness, food sanitation, food adulteration, and food advertising and labeling. The division also performs in-depth investigations of food law violations.
If necessary, the Food Safety Division may take immediate on-site action to:
- Stop the sale of suspect food, pending examination.
- Condemn unwholesome or contaminated food.
- Suspend slaughter operations.
- Prohibit the use of unsanitary equipment or facilities.
The Food Safety Division may also:
- Deny a food license application, or issue a conditional license.
- Petition the DATCP Secretary to suspend, revoke or impose conditions on an existing license.
- Prosecute food law violations in court (with a county district attorney or the Department of Justice). The division may seek criminal penalties, civil forfeitures or injunctions against law violators.
- Issue warning notices for less serious violations.
The Food Safety Division coordinates its programs with the following agencies:
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- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (food and dairy).
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (meat inspection).
- The National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments.
- Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (food-borne disease epidemics, hotel and restaurant inspection).
- County and local health departments.