Remarks prepared for delivery by Dr. Richard Raymond, USDA
Under Secretary for Food Safety, to the 2006 Food Safety Education
Conference, September 27, 2006, Denver, Colorado.
I hope everyone is enjoying themselves. Before I go any further
I want to thank Under Secretary Johner and Deputy Chief of Staff
to the Secretary of Agriculture Beth Johnson one more time for
coming out to support this year's food safety education conference
and sharing their unique perspectives on food safety.
It's just this kind of diversity in approaches toward ensuring
a safe and wholesome food supply that makes this conference
such an important forum. It's a forum for public health officials
and others in the food safety community to come together and
share the latest science-based food safety findings, principles,
practices. It's also the perfect place to discuss and share
the communication strategies that are most effective in reaching
the general public and hard to reach at-risk audiences.
Just as Under Secretary Johner said earlier, the USDA understands
that we can certainly do more together with our food safety
partners than we could ever think of doing alone.
As USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, I oversee the Food
Safety and Inspection Service. Most of the time, the attention
and emphasis are placed on the last half of the name — Inspection
Service. It's understandable. After all, our inspection activities
have had a daily effect on nearly every household in America
since the 1906 Meat Inspection Act was passed 100 years ago.
It's what we do.
But more recently, at FSIS we've been focusing more on the
first half of our name — Food Safety — by expanding the reach
and impact of our food safety education messages to consumers
and at-risk populations. For the next three days, these vital
activities, conducted in cooperation with not only other local,
state and federal agencies, but also trade, consumer and public
health associations, will be taking center stage.
FSIS' own approach to consumer education utilizes traditional
and non-traditional methods to foster safer food handling and
achieve positive behavior change. This includes teaching everyone
the four basics of safe food preparation: Clean,
Separate, Cook and Chill.
[More information: befoodsafe.gov]
It isn't the message that is in doubt, but how to deliver the
message more effectively is the question we are asking here
at this conference — I hope we get some answers this week.
These four basics of safe food preparation and other safe food
preparation messages are so important because current science
just doesn't allow us to be able to guarantee that every raw
meat and poultry product that is produced will be germ-free
nor that every cooked meat and poultry product will remain germ-free
as it makes its way to a consumer's plate. This basic limitation
is why FSIS remains determined to get consumers the information
they need to help them better protect their families.
As a public health agency, FSIS must strive toward strengthening
this important last line of defense. So many things can happen
during food preparation, most of them bad, and many of them
potentially dangerous — like cross contamination.
But even as we strengthen our education and outreach efforts,
I want to assure you that we'll never stop working to enhance
the public health protections offered by our nation's food safety
regulatory system. We're dedicated to improving our food safety
AND inspection service. This isn't an "either/or" proposition.
It's just high time we began to remind people the AND in FSIS
means we have a bigger role than JUST inspection. We do want
to become known as the public health branch of the USDA.
As I said before, this conference is focused on food safety
education and the challenges we face in that arena, but I do
want to speak briefly about our efforts to strengthen our food
safety regulatory system. A good grasp of both our food safety
education and inspection activities and how they work together
in concert is important to fully understanding our farm-to-fork
approach to ensuring a safe and wholesome supply of meat, poultry
and egg products.
Just as FSIS targets its food safety education efforts toward
at-risk audiences, the agency also focuses its inspection resources
on the products and facilities that pose the greatest risk to
public health. We refer to this as a risk-based approach to
For example, the 11-step Salmonella initiative that
FSIS unveiled in February focuses the agency's Salmonella
testing on plants that show the least success in controlling
this dangerous pathogen. Our Listeria monocytogenes
regulatory sampling program initiated in 2003 was also a risk-based
approach to inspection.
In the past year, we've begun work on creating an even more
robust risk-based inspection system. What we're after is a common
sense, cost-effective public health strategy that best serves
the American consumer and the meat and poultry industry by preventing
human illness and in turn, protecting those most at-risk from
foodborne illnesses. This goal requires that we have the ability
to anticipate and quickly respond to food safety challenges
before they negatively affect public health.
An enhanced robust risk-based system offers us this ability.
It's about having the flexibility to spend our work hours in
a smarter way with more time in the plants that need us there
the most to help protect the public's health. Ultimately, that's
what it's all about, lowering the risk to the public.
Food Safety Successes
I'm happy to report that these risk-based policies, in conjunction
with industry's efforts and our vigorous food safety initiatives,
have helped to make the meat and poultry supply safer. The best
indicators of this success are those that directly relate to
pathogen reduction and public health outcomes.
Since 2000, the percentage of regulatory product samples that
tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes has fallen
by 56 percent so that in 2005, only 0.64 percent of regulatory
samples taken were positive for this dangerous pathogen.
The results are even more dramatic for product sampling for
E. coli O157:H7, which has declined by nearly 80 percent.
Only 0.17 percent of FSIS' samples were positive in fiscal year
More important than the declines in the product sampling numbers
is that we're also seeing dramatic declines in the rate of human
illness. Comparing human foodborne illness data from 2005 with
1998 data, E. coli O157:H7 human illness rates are
down 29 percent, Listeria monocytogenes is down 32
percent and Campylobacter declined 30 percent.
Initiatives like FSIS' important cooperative relationship with
the Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention's FoodNet and Pulsenet programs have
also played a critical role in these declines. They seem like
they have been here forever, but in actuality are only 10 years
The data we receive from these partnerships helps us to more
quickly identify outbreaks and pinpoint sources. We all know,
the quicker outbreaks are identified the quicker regulatory
actions can be initiated in order to prevent human illness and
These public health successes are a direct reflection of the
powerful combination of FSIS' risk-based policies implemented
in the past 12 years, and the vital food safety initiatives
that the agency and its partners have implemented. However,
we can't be satisfied with our past success. Percentages don't
mean much if you're the one with a sick child. For you, it's
still 100 percent.
That's why we must continue to improve our food safety system
for future threats using sound science, before those threats
can harm consumers. Key to future improvements is having a more
accurate picture of the prevalence of foodborne illnesses and
of the people these serious illnesses are affecting.
I want to challenge the public health and medical community
here today to commit to improving their reporting of foodborne
illnesses. Although foodborne illnesses can be severe or even
fatal, milder cases are often not detected through routine surveillance
and underreporting of foodborne illnesses is common.
This has serious negative consequences on our ability to understand
the food safety environment we are operating in and our ability
to obtain the support for the funding needed to combat foodborne
illnesses. This information is absolutely necessary in order
to create and guide prevention efforts and asses the effectiveness
of our food safety regulations.
With that said, I want to thank you all again for coming to
what I hope is just one of many such food safety education conferences.
We have a strong food safety system in place, and that's due
in large part to the work everyone here does on a daily basis.
But the state of public health is constantly evolving and we
must be sure we're evolving with it. We can't afford to let
ourselves, our partners or our nation's food safety efforts
stagnate. We must constantly be working to enhance our public
health protections and the public's awareness of these protections.
Public health is a lot like a bicycle in that if we're not
moving forward, then we are in fact falling down. However, when
it comes to public health there's no such thing as training
wheels. That's why it's so critical that we all work together
to create the most effective food safety policies and outreach
We all know that we can save lives, and together we'll do just