Remarks prepared for delivery
by Jerold Mande, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, for
the joint FDA, CDC, and FSIS public workshop, "Measuring Progress
on Food Safety: Current Status and Future Directions," March
30, 2010, in Washington, DC.
Introduction and Acknowledgements
Good morning and thank you for joining us at today's metrics
Before my remarks, let me take this opportunity to thank my
good friend Mike Taylor for his food safety leadership at FDA,
as well as the respective staffs at CDC, FSIS, and FDA who helped
organize this important meeting.
I also want to thank Tino Cuellar for joining us and demonstrating
what has been an extraordinary commitment by the White House
to protecting our nation's food supply. Tino brings a sharp
and probing intellect to our task and we are better for it.
Food Safety is a Shared Goal
There are those here today who have fought on behalf of consumers
for years. There are the family members who have lived the horror
of our system when it fails. There are industry professionals
who have made producing safe food the core of their business.
And there are government officials who have been entrusted by
the American people to keep our food safe.
We all work toward a common goal: safe food. I want to begin
my remarks from that shared premise.
Sometimes we have different ideas of how to get there—what
the best policies may be to get us there—but our bottom
line is the same. We want the assurance that food won't make
our families sick.
Yet providing that assurance requires constant vigilance, and
it cannot be done alone. We must work together along the farm-to-table
continuum to ensure safe food. The president and Secretaries
Vilsack and Sebelius, understand this, and the administration
has sought unprecedented collaboration among its food safety
agencies through the Food
Safety Working Group and meetings like this one.
The importance of today's meeting can be described in one sentence:
What doesn't get measured doesn't get done. I want
to state that again, because it is the most important message
I want you to take from today's meeting: What doesn't get
measured doesn't get done. Business gurus have repeated
this mantra for years and it is as true for us as it is for
them. It is why today's meeting is so important. Continued progress
on food safety depends on adopting and implementing the right
A Watershed Moment in Food Safety
This is a watershed moment in food safety.
These moments, these opportunities, do not come often. But
when they do, they significantly change our trajectory as businesses
and regulators alike.
One came at the turn of the twentieth century, when Upton Sinclair's
novel The Jungle uncovered filthy conditions in the meatpacking
industry. At that time, foodborne illness was a leading cause
Sinclair's exposé and the public uproar that followed led to
the passing of the Food and Drugs Act, as well as the Meat Inspection
Act in 1906.
We operated under these laws for some time, and made steady
progress. And for a time issues such as economic adulteration
surpassed microbial adulteration as a major concern.
Until 1993. It was then that food safety and inspection was
turned on its head once again, when an historic E. coli
O157:H7 outbreak in undercooked ground beef caused 400 illnesses
and four deaths in the Pacific Northwest. This outbreak was
followed with another O157 outbreak, this time in unpasteurized
In response, USDA adopted the science-based system of preventive
controls we have in place today. The landmark Pathogen Reduction/Hazard
Analysis and Critical Control Point Systems, or HACCP rule,
defined a new, preventive framework for industry and regulators.
It helps protect the nation's food supply through continuous
improvement of preventive pathogen control.
With HACCP, FSIS became the public health regulatory agency
it is today. And it worked. We made gains under this system
for nearly a decade.
We also saw advances during this same period in the tracking
and identification of pathogens, with the establishment of FoodNet
and PulseNet, which allowed us to begin linking pathogen reductions
to illness reductions.
In 1997, we set a food safety goal for the nation to cut the
rates of foodborne illness from the most common pathogens
by half by 2010. But we reached a plateau. Most progress toward
this goal occurred before 2004. Lower rates mean less illness
so over the last decade we have moved in the right direction.
But we need to know how many people get sick, from which contaminants,
in which foods to design a system that will push through the
current plateau and drive foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations,
and deaths significantly lower.
When the president took office last year, we were in the midst
of a large recall. As you know, he responded by establishing
the Food Safety Working Group within 60 days of taking office
and appointed the secretaries of Health and Human Services and
Agriculture as co-chairs.
Which brings us to this, the next critical juncture in food
Guided largely by the Working Group, we're looking at the entire
food safety system, and across jurisdictions and products. It
is a watershed moment. We have a president, two secretaries,
and leaders in Congress who have made improving food safety
The status quo is unacceptable. Our bosses, the American people,
have made that clear. In some cases our laws are outdated, our
system too reactive, and our structure too fragmented given
the complexity of modern food. We need the tools and coordination
to meet the challenges of a 21st century food system, and we
need better metrics so that we can measure what needs to get
Food safety must be improved. Passage of FDA food safety legislation,
a high priority for the administration, is a key step. Today's
meeting is another. The Food Safety Working Group has made metrics
a cornerstone of our efforts.
Major Food Safety Efforts at USDA
USDA is helping lead the change we need to improve food safety.
Led by Secretary Tom Vilsack, major new and revamped efforts
are underway to improve the safety of the products we regulate:
- We have challenged our leadership, scientists, and analysts
to think strategically and creatively about policies to reduce
- We're implementing many priorities identified through the
Food Safety Working Group deliberations such as new pathogen
reduction performance standards for control of Salmonella
- We're actively discussing ways to improve product tracing
and better educating and training our workforce regarding
E. coli O157:H7.
- We're supporting the Secretary's renewed emphasis on research;
developing new tools such as a test for non-O157 STECs, and
promoting food safety research through the National Institute
of Food and Agriculture.
- And of course, we continue preparations to launch our dynamic
data analytics system, the Public Health Information System,
which will revolutionize the way FSIS detects and responds
to foodborne hazards.
But while each of these steps could help bring about the significant
reduction of foodborne illness we seek, we won't know how best
to deploy them unless we can link their use to specific reductions
in illness. To do that we must be able to more precisely measure
changes in foodborne illness. And to do that we must build robust
data collection and analysis.
We are not regulating for the sake of regulation. We want results.
Policy in any area is best when a), it's rooted in
science and b), it's measured for impact. This same standard
applies to food safety.
We want to ensure that our programs, interventions, and measures
have a positive effect on public health.
So what do we do? What would it take to cut the number of foodborne
illnesses in half again?
We need assessment tools to guide our efforts, gauge the success
of our policies and interventions, and make a direct link between
our actions and outcomes. We need to know what is working—or
not working—in order to reach our goal of sharply reducing
foodborne illnesses and deaths. And we need specific, measurable,
timely markers along the way to know we are on track and to
make adjustments if we are not.
For example, although FDA, FSIS and other agencies have varied
roles in our nation's food safety, we essentially begin from
the same place: the estimated burden of foodborne illness.
Before we make decisions on food safety policies and interventions,
we must know how many people are getting sick each year from
foodborne contaminants, and from which ones? Who, exactly, is
getting sick and from which foods? And, overall, are we making
progress toward reducing foodborne illnesses?
These are central questions. However, developing answers to
them that we can be confident in and base policy on has proven
To reach our goals, we must measure progress along the entire
farm-to-table continuum. Improvements in on-farm interventions
can bring improvements at slaughterhouses, which can improve
control at processing establishments and so on, until products
reach the consumer.
We must leverage data. FSIS has inspectors in our regulated
establishments every day. We must make better use of them to
measure and monitor levels of contaminants in our products.
And we must better use what we know about industry compliance,
process control, and other indicators to assess their impact
on public health.
Pathogens evolve and spread through the food system,
and as long as we approach them as if they respect the purview
or jurisdiction of the farm, the producer, the USDA, FDA, or
other agencies, they will elude us.
That's why the president has charged us to work in a unified
way to meet the challenges of our modern food safety system.
This workshop is an example of the collaboration our president
expects and what is needed to improve food safety.
In other words, we're in this effort together. The progress
of each part of the system is tied to the progress of the other.
And we must work together to eliminate foodborne illnesses and
At today's meeting, we'll begin a discussion about reaching
this goal in a smart way, and measuring our progress on protecting
the nation's food supply.
Thank you for being here and I hope that you will join us to
make this a historic turning point in national food safety.
On behalf of Secretary Vilsack and USDA, I assure you that
we hold ourselves accountable to the public and to making real,
considerable gains in improving public health through safe food.