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Food Safety Strategies

USDA, HHS Announce Food Safety Strategies

U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Seblius recently announced that prevention and partnership will guide their departments’ efforts to safeguard the food Americans eat every day. These initiatives are based on the public health priniciples embraced by the White House Food Safety Working Group, which happens to be led by Vilsack and Sebelius.

According to the press release, “Making prevention a priority is critical to reducing foodborne illness and one of the three food safety priniciples of President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group,” said Vilsack. “The actions we are taking today will result in safer food in our country, which means healthier children and less costly healthcare.”

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued guidance for inspectors to begin conducting routine sampling of bench trim for E.Coli O157:H7, as well as issuing streamlined, consolidated instructions to its personnel for inspection, sampling and other actions related to E.Coli O157:H7. This came in the form of FSIS Notice 51-09, “Routine Sampling and Testing of Beef Manufacturing Trimmings Derived from Cattle Not Slaughtered in that Establishment (Bench Trim) for E.Coli O157:H7,” and a revised version of FSIS Directive 10,010.1, “Verification Activities for Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Raw Beef Products.”

Secretary Sebelius also praised the three draft guidelines prepared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency within HHS, aimed at minimizing or eliminating contamination in leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons that can cause foodborne illnesses. According to Sebelius, HHS’ draft guidance documents are the FDA’s first step toward setting enforceable standards for produce safety. FDA Commissioner Margaret A.Hamburg, M.D. said the draft guidances represent a shift in strategy for the FDA, from a food safety system that often has been reactive to one that is based on preventing foodborne hazards.

Secretary Sebelius went on to say that consumers pay a vital role in ensuring the safety of the fresh produce they eat, and offered several tips from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interestingly enough, the press release did not include any tips from Vilsack for consumers of meat and poultry products, as to the role they play in food safety when protecting themselves against pathogens like E.Coli O157:H7. Perhaps this was a lost opportunity on behalf of USDA to include such beneficial information.

For more information, go to www.usda.gov. Also, if you are interested in the key findings and recommendations of the President’s Food Safety Working Group along with more information about its activities, please visit www.foodsafetyworkinggroup.gov.