USDA Announces Initiatives To Improve Food Safety

WASHINGTON - U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano has released a "food safety vision document" that will guide continuing efforts to improve the safety of U.S. meat, poultry, and egg products and protect public health.

The document, "Enhancing Public Health: Strategies for the Future," outlines accomplishments to date as well as challenges that must be overcome in order to further reduce the incidence of foodborne illness.

"Americans enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world, and it is getting safer," Murano said. "However, in spite of recent positive trends in reductions in foodborne illness, we also recognize the need to intensify our efforts to reduce illnesses even further. This document will help guide us as we focus on risks and science based solutions to meet future challenges."

The document identifies key steps taken in the past year to further protect public health. Most recently, the Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a new rule requiring plants that produce ready-to-eat products to have effective programs in place to better control listeria. In addition to testing, plants are required to share data and other relevant information with FSIS.

Murano said public input into the document would be important as FSIS works to implement several key initiatives to enhance meat and poultry safety and improve food inspection systems, including:

- Efforts to lessen the time between the development and implementation of new technologies that will improve meat and poultry safety. To accomplish this task, the agency is establishing a new office of technology approval review so that the process can be streamlined and focused.

- Conducting baseline studies to determine the nationwide levels of various pathogenic microorganisms in raw meat and poultry. In the past, limited baseline studies were used to establish performance standards, which are used to verify sanitary conditions at meat and poultry plants. These new baseline studies will be conducted on a continual basis, yielding national trends and a way to judge the performance of initiatives designed to reduce the level of pathogens in meat and poultry products. The net result will aim to achieve more targeted interventions and effective elimination of sources of foodborne microorganisms.

- Working with the Research, Education, and Extension mission area at USDA to coordinate food safety research priorities and needs. The research agenda will include a mechanism by which research needs in food safety are prioritized. FSIS also will coordinate with researchers within and outside USDA so that risk analysis is conducted more efficiently, utilizing the best science.

- Retool its education and training programs so that its workforce is better prepared to implement and enforce new food safety regulations. The agency will focus on recruiting scientifically educated employees and retooling its training and education programs for all inspectors.

In addition to these ongoing efforts, a stronger system of checks and balances is important to an effective food safety system, Murano said.
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