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July 11, 2003   Email to Friend 

USDA ANNOUNCES INITIATIVES TO IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY
Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
July 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano today 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. Titled, "Enhancing Public Health: Strategies for the Future," the document 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."

In March 2003, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman called for creative and effective ways to modernize the Food Safety and Inspection Service's ability to continue to improve the safety of U.S. meat, poultry and egg products to better protect public health. The document identifies goals and strategies to be pursued by FSIS.

The document identifies many key steps taken in the past year to further protect public health. Most recently, FSIS announced a new rule requiring plants that produce ready-to-eat products to have effective programs in place to better control Listeria monocytogenes. In addition to testing, plants are required to share data and other relevant information with FSIS. The rule also encourages all establishments to employ additional and more effective intervention technologies to combat this pathogen.

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

Food Safety Technologies -- FSIS is working 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.

Baseline Studies -- FSIS will be 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 be more targeted interventions and effective elimination of sources of foodborne microorganisms.

Research Agenda -- FSIS is 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. USDA held a food safety research agenda symposium in June 2003 to help initiate the development of a unified research agenda that will complement efforts by industry and academia.

Risk Analysis Coordination -- FSIS will establish a risk analysis coordination team in order to better focus and plan long term risk analysis activities. FSIS also will coordinate with researchers within and outside USDA so that risk analysis is conducted more efficiently, utilizing the best science.

Training -- FSIS will 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. First, all training programs will be updated to incorporate a public health focus by melding scientific and technical principles with training on technical and regulatory approaches to inspection. Second, the delivery of training will be augmented through interactive sessions near employee work sites, as well as through on-site and regional training programs.

Best Management Practices -- In consultation with livestock producers, researchers and other stakeholders, FSIS is developing a list of best management practices for animal production facilities such as feedlots to provide guidance in reducing pathogen loads before slaughter.

In addition to these ongoing efforts, a strong system of checks and balances is important to an effective food safety system, Murano said. FSIS is examining how it can best utilize its resources and authorities to further enhance its systems while providing incentives for compliance. The agency is working with interested parties to modernize and further enhance its compliance efforts.

The complete document, "Enhancing Public Health: Strategies for the Future," can be found at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/programs/vision071003.htm. Public comments on the document can be submitted to:


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