Remarks given by Dr. Barbara Masters, Acting Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection
Service, at the World Meat Congress 2004, June 16, 2004, Winnipeg, Canada.
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slides to accompany this speech (PDF Only)
(Slide 1) Good morning everyone. It's a pleasure to be at this very
important event. I appreciate the opportunity to join my colleagues
here on this panel to give you an overview of U.S. food safety initiatives
regarding meat, poultry and egg products. This forum presents a
wonderful opportunity to continue dialogue and learn from each other
in how we can all further improve food safety and security across
In my role as Acting Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection
Service (FSIS) I am responsible for managing FSIS' food safety activities.
I believe we have accomplished much to reach our public health goals
and I am committed to building on our success. The way I look at
we (FSIS) enhance public health through improving food safety.
We are committed to public health, and believe strongly that science
is the way to get us there.
With the global food supply, we are interdependent on each other's
actions. In today's market, we must take a global approach to food
safety by employing science and risk-based initiatives.
Significant Food Safety Advancements
Basing policies and initiatives on the best available science and
risk analyses has been key to FSIS' efforts to enhance public health
by improving the safety and security of the meat, poultry and egg
Even though FSIS's statutory authority lies most directly over
slaughterhouses and processing establishments, we are working with
all of our partners along the farm-to-fork continuum to ensure that
food safety measures are implemented during production, processing,
transportation, and preparation.
(Slide 2) Recent indicators show that our approach seems
to be working. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), in its annual report on the incidence of infections
from foodborne pathogens, noted significant declines from 1996 to
2003 in illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 (42%), Salmonella
(17%), Campylobacter (28%) and Yersinia (49%).
(Slide 3) Specifically to the products FSIS regulates, illnesses
caused by Salmonella Typhimurium (typically associated
with meat and poultry) decreased by 38%. Most significantly, between
2002 and 2003, illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7, typically
associated with ground beef, dropped by 36%. That's a one-year reduction!
We are very hopeful that if we continue on our current course,
this reduction will not be just for one year, but will continue
from now on until we have achieved the greatest reduction possible
in the illnesses caused by this pathogen.
We believe these reductions in illnesses have occurred in the context
of the control measures that FSIS and industry have put into place.
The effectiveness of a science and risk-based approach is especially
evident when we look at Listeria monocytogenes.
(Slide 4) FSIS recently implemented a new Listeria regulation
that provided incentives for ready-to-eat establishments to implement
scientifically-based measures to prevent contamination of products
with Lm. We developed our Listeria rule from a
very thorough quantitative risk assessment, which provided a road map
to determine the practices that industry should follow in order
to exert the greatest control over this pathogen in ready-to-eat
meat and poultry products. The risk assessment showed that testing
the processing environment was critical, in that it would help find
the organism in the niches where it may reside, allowing processors
to target and eliminate it from the plant environment before it
We recently conducted a survey of 1,400 establishments producing
ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, and found that more than
87% have changed their operations in one way or another to more
effectively control Listeria monocytogenes. Of course,
there were many companies that did not have to change anything,
because they were already implementing science-based measures like
these in their processes. So the bottom line is that this rule challenged
those in industry that had not begun to implement these scientifically
based measures, to do more to prevent contamination with this pathogen.
Late last year, we released data that showed a one-year, 25 percent
drop in the percentage of positive Listeria monocytogenes
regulatory samples from the year before, and a 70 percent decline
compared with years prior to the implementation of HACCP. Data can
fluctuate from year to year, but we are cautiously optimistic that
this downward trend will continue due to actions required by this
Accountability With HACCP
(Slide 5) The foundation of our recent food safety advancements
was built with the implementation of the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard
Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems in meat and
poultry slaughter and processing plants. As you know, the principles
of HACCP are the gold standard accepted throughout the world
that we know works when fully implemented and enforced. However,
HACCP plans must be continuously reassessed to address known hazards
and that is where we are focusing our attention now.
For example, most recently, we focused on industry reassessing
and our Agency verifying the effectiveness of HACCP plans to control
pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.
Our scientifically trained personnel have conducted the first-ever
comprehensive audits of 1,500 beef establishments' HACCP plans.
Sixty two percent of those plants made major improvements based
on these reassessments. In 2003, of the E. coli O157:H7 samples
collected and analyzed, 0.31 percent tested positive, compared to
0.78 percent in 2002 - or a 60% reduction. This is a definite improvement
- and although these figures do represent regulatory samples, and
are not necessarily representative of the prevalence of this pathogen
in the United States, they are representative of a downward trend,
and a signal that our science-based policies are working.
(Slide 6) We have also seen a downward trend in our regulatory
samples for Salmonella in raw meat and poultry since 1998.
Again, these figures represent a downward trend in our regulatory
(Slide 7) After a thorough assessment last year of our progress,
we outlined specific initiatives to make sure we continue building
on our public health regulatory model. These initiatives were outlined
in our food safety vision document, Ensuring Public Health:
a Vision for the Future. I want to share with you some of the
initiatives we are currently working on from this vision document.
(Slide 8) First, training is at the top of our priority list. We
have been further integrating HACCP training into our workforce
through the Food Safety Regulatory Essentials (FSRE) training, which
was inaugurated in April 2003. FSRE training is designed to better
equip our inspectors who verify an establishment's HACCP food safety
system. We expect to have this segment of our workforce fully trained
by the end of fiscal year 2005.
This year FSIS also initiated an updated entry level public health
veterinarian training program, which includes a comprehensive offering
of classroom instruction and in-plant mentoring on topics such as
humane handling, food microbiology, residue detection, occupational
safety, animal production, food safety and security, and establishment
system reviews. FSIS is the largest employer of veterinarians in
the United States with approximately 1,100; therefore, this training
program is essential for retaining the highest caliber of veterinarians
in the agency to improve public health.
(Slide 9) A second initiative is conducting an aggressive outreach
program to connect all of FSIS' stakeholders with essential agency
information. For instance, one of our goals is to improve industry's
understanding of Agency policies and programs. We have been actively
involved in providing plant managers with guidance on our new regulations.
Last fall, we held a series of highly successful workshops for small
and very small plant owners and managers to cover our new Listeria
regulations. From January through March of this year, we held a
series of workshops to offer assistance to industry on our interim
BSE rules. And now, we are holding workshops across the country
to ensure that both plant and FSIS employees have the same understanding
of our recent E. coli O157:H7 measures.
An important component of our public health regulatory effort includes
holding a variety of public meetings to receive input from all stakeholders
who have an interest in food safety. This includes industry, consumer
groups, academia and others. Their input is vital for the development
and further refinement of our policies and programs.
(Slide 10) To help all food handlers understand the importance
of safe food handling, FSIS conducts an aggressive educational campaign
of public events and media interviews with national and regional
news organizations in order to reach more of the U.S. population
with important public health messages. Last year, FSIS teamed up
with several high profile celebrities such as country music star
Wynonna Judd, pop legend Olivia Newton-John, and former Miss America
Heather Whitestone McCallum to deliver important food handling tips.
(Slide 11) Our consumer educational efforts have also "hit the
road." Last year, FSIS launched the USDA
Food Safety Mobile to strategic locations throughout the
United States to bring food safety messages directly to consumers
and food handlers. Through partnerships with university extension
agents and private industry, the Mobile has hosted numerous demonstrations
for food handlers of all ages. In 2003 alone, the Mobile Food Safety
Marketing campaign enabled us to reach a potential 64 million people,
using information multipliers, throughout the United States.
(Slide 12) Our newly redesigned and improved Web site is another
means by which we can communicate to our audiences in a whole new
- and easier - way. Our Web site features a virtual representative
- we have named "Ask Karen" - to answer food safety questions 24
hours, seven days a week. This allows us to extend our reach from
thousands to potentially millions of food handlers and consumers!
The URL is www.fsis.usda.gov
Best Practices for Animal Production
(Slide 13) A third initiative is the development of a list of best
practices for animal production. In consultation with producers,
researchers, and other stakeholders, FSIS is developing a list of
best management practices for animal production in order to provide
guidance in reducing pathogen loads before slaughter.
Last September, we arranged a symposium to discuss ways to significantly
reduce the levels of E. coli O157:H7 in live animals before
slaughter. We understand that preventing the spread of E. coli
and other pathogens on the farm is vital to increasing food safety
and protecting public health.
The dialogue that was generated from that meeting was very beneficial
toward our development of guidelines outlining best management practices
at the pre-harvest stage, which we expect to publish this year.
Once these guidelines are developed, you can expect to see an aggressive
outreach effort by FSIS to distribute these to producers.
(Slide 14) Another key initiative is to conduct microbiological
baseline studies. This is an absolute priority for FSIS. We expect
to begin a baseline study to determine the nationwide prevalence
and levels of various pathogenic microorganisms in raw meat and
poultry. We intend to conduct these studies on a regular basis.
The continual nature of the baseline studies will provide both information
on national trends as well as a tool to assess performance of initiatives
designed to reduce the prevalence of pathogens in meat and poultry
products. These baseline studies will also provide important information
for conducting risk assessments that can lead to risk management
strategies to reduce foodborne illness.
Moreover, we will be able to correlate prevalence with practices
at processing plants, and thereby help establishments and us to
understand better what interventions are working, which ones are
not, and if not, why not. The new baseline studies will take into
account regional variation, seasonality and other critical factors,
which were not taken into consideration before, so they will serve
to give us the truest picture of prevalence we've ever had.
Food Security Initiative
(Slide 15) Finally, enhancing our food security measures is a top
Agency initiative as well. We must take a global approach to food
security, and that includes working with our trading partners to
encourage them to take steps as well. All of us must examine our
own systems, detect vulnerabilities, and put measures in place to
FSIS has been able to improve food security under its existing
authorities. We have more than 7,600 inspectors in slaughter and
processing plants and at import facilities nationwide. Four laboratories
provide analytical support. This extensive and well functioning
food safety infrastructure serves us well whether contamination
is naturally occurring or introduced intentionally. And the infrastructure
serves as a foundation on which to build additional safeguards.
(Slide 16) First, we established a full-time staff whose sole responsibility
is food security. This office works in concert with other government
agencies, including the White House, to ensure that activities are
coordinated and resources used efficiently.
(Slide 17) Second, we made a number of improvements at our laboratories.
We improved security to ensure the integrity of all samples and
materials received by the laboratories. We participate in an electronic
laboratory exchange network through which food safety laboratories
at various government agencies can share food sample and test data
in a secure environment. We also have expanded laboratory capabilities
to test for approximately 12 non-traditional microbial, chemical
and radiological threat agents. And we recently celebrated the opening
of a new, high-tech laboratory that will be able to conduct analyses
on a larger range of potential bioterrorism agents.
(Slide 18) Third, we made sure our workforce of inspectors was
ready to address the new challenges posed by potential acts of bioterrorism.
Our entire workforce is being trained with a program that focuses
on preventing terrorist activities, rather than responding to them
after the fact.
And we have in place a system for when there is an elevated alert.
Certain inspection tasks not related to food safety are replaced
with targeted inspection and sampling for a dozen or so biological,
chemical and radiological agents.
(Slide 19) Strengthening our borders is important. We established
a new inspection position to augment the current activities of our
traditional import inspectors at 146 locations.
(Slide 20) Another area where we have made food security improvements
is in assessment vulnerabilities from farm to table. Through this
assessment, we identified commodities that are at higher risk of
being potentially contaminated. These assessments have allowed us
to develop shields, or counter measures, to address the vulnerabilities
(Slide 21) And last but not least, we have provided outreach to
industry on what steps they can take to improve food security. We
have issued two publications to industry -one for slaughter and
processing plants and one for transporters and distributors-on steps
they can take to tighten plant security. Since many of these establishments
are small businesses that many be minority-owned, we have offered
these publications in five languages-English, Spanish, Mandarin
Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. (Slide 22) We also have issued a
publication for consumers, also in various languages.
Achieving the Next Level of the Food Safety
(Slide 23) We have accomplished a lot, but we are not done yet.
Through analysis and discussions with stakeholders, we have identified
three issues that need to be addressed to attain the next level
of public health protection.
(Slide 24) The first issue is to anticipate/predict risk
through enhanced data integration. To better anticipate
risks involving meat and poultry products, we must have the best
available data to clearly identify the extent and nature of these
risks, so that we may determine an effective response. These data
consist of regulatory samples, as well as samples collected by food
processing establishments. Thus, there is a need to improve access
to and analysis of food safety data from all reliable sources.
Accomplishing this task will help us direct our inspection and
enforcement efforts on those practices where risk is deemed to be
highest, resulting in a more efficient use of government resources.
(Slide 25) The second issue is the improved application
of risk into regulatory and enforcement activities. Food
safety problems need to be documented as they occur, so that conditions
may be analyzed, and if need be, corrected. A better understanding
of the prevalence and causes of food safety failures could allow
better assessment of how to best address them. Data regarding the
causes of food safety violations, either within a specific establishment,
or within a class, can be utilized in order to better focus prevention
and regulatory enforcement strategies. The types and frequencies
of enforcement actions taken can help determine where FSIS resources
need to be focused.
(Slide 26) To develop a relative, real-time measure of how well
an establishment controls the biological, chemical, and physical
hazards inherent in its operations; FSIS is exploring the development
of the concept of a Hazards Control Coefficient (HCC). (Slide 27)
Imagine if we could divide the universe of plants into categories
based on the risk inherent in their product (ground beef vs. beef
jerky), and on the compliance history of the plant, we could determine
which plants have the lowest vs. the highest probability of producing
safe product. Such a scheme would help the Agency make resource
allocation decisions with more than 6,000 meat and poultry establishments
based on risk, and thus maximize food safety and public health protection.
(Slide 28) Finally, the third issue is better association
of program outcomes to public health surveillance data. We
have seen notable advances in preventing foodborne illness, which
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed in
part to the implementation of HACCP. However, there still is a need
to determine how specific policies affect public health. In order
to accomplish this, data that links foodborne illness outbreaks
with specific foods needs to be obtained and documented. It may
then be linked with prevalence data of specific pathogens in specific
foods. However, to complete the linkage with public health outcomes,
a strong connection with human health surveillance data is needed.
(Slide 29) With a global food supply, we are all interdependent
on each other's actions. The farm-to-table chain that we historically
visualized as being confined within one nation's borders is becoming
more of a complex and integrated global network.
Protecting public health by ensuring safe and wholesome food is
not accomplished through one isolated action or through just one
organization. This is the reason why when we carry out our meat,
poultry and egg products inspection, as well as other food safety
activities, we work with all of our domestic and international partners.
(Slide 30) We need to make sure that we are seeking the highest
levels of food safety standards possible - standards that are based
on sound science and risk-based initiatives.
We are all in this together. We still have work to do - government
industry to industry. But when we focus on utilizing
science as our common ally to improve food safety and public health,
we will get it done.
Thank you for your attention, and I would be happy to answer any
questions you might have.