|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Remarks prepared for presentation by Dr. Catherine Woteki, Under Secretary for Food Safety, before the FDA Public Meeting on the Microbial Safety of Produce, November 17, Arlington, VA.
Good morning. It's a pleasure to join Dr. Friedman in welcoming you to this public meeting on the microbial safety of fresh produce. FDA and USDA have had many opportunities to work closely together over the past few years on nutrition labeling, farm-to-table food safety, and most recently, the President's Food Safety Initiative. We look forward to working with FDA on this new Presidential initiative to ensure the safety of imported and domestic fruits and vegetables.
Although reported incidence of foodborne disease from fresh produce is relatively low, it is increasing. At the same time, we are encouraging the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. "5-a-day" is a cornerstone of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines issued jointly by USDA and HHS and an important component of public health advice to reduce the risk of chronic disease. Therefore, consumers must have confidence in the availability of produce that is consistently safe.
We certainly believe that industry has the primary responsibility to produce safe food. But government also has a responsibility--and that is, to set standards and to provide guidance on food safety where appropriate. A "one size fits all" approach won't work, however, for all foods. The full range of options, from education to regulation, must be explored for the various commodities. For produce, we believe it is appropriate for government to provide the industry with guidelines for good agricultural and good manufacturing practices.
Regardless of the approach we take, however, standards and guidance should be science-based, and that is the direction we are taking. They also should be established through a public process, providing all interested parties the opportunity to provide input. And that is why we are here today and why FDA will be holding more public meetings around the country.
As you know, FDA will be taking the lead on this initiative, but USDA has an important role as well. The President directed HHS to work with USDA, and in close cooperation with the agricultural community, to issue guidance on good agricultural and good manufacturing practices for produce.
Secretary Glickman has asked me to coordinate USDA's participation in implementing this directive and providing FDA with the support it needs, and I am pleased to assume this responsibility.
I believe USDA has a lot to offer in helping to implement this initiative. We have a strong food safety research program and can provide expertise on current knowledge related to produce safety. In fact, USDA will begin this spring a major research initiative addressing fresh fruits and vegetables to support this initiative. The research will help us to answer important questions regarding the use of manure in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. We also need to know the food safety implications of post-harvest processing techniques such as fresh-cut and modified-atmosphere packaging.
Once guidance is developed, USDA has an extensive education network to help get the word out. Through our Cooperative Extension system, all producers in every county in the United States will have the opportunity to learn about proper growing techniques to minimize food safety risks. We have 6 to 7 thousand educators across the United States who can help producers look at their own practices and determine what changes they need to make from a food safety perspective.
In closing, over the past several years, we have learned a lot about what it takes to make a good food safety strategy.
We know, for example, that we must base our decisions on sound science, and we must have data to back up our decisions.
We also know that each of us, where we represent government, industry, or the public--must take our fair share of the responsibility for food safety.
We know how important it is to form partnerships to get the job done more quickly and effectively.
And we know the public must be involved in the decision making process.
There are many challenges ahead, but I believe we have a good framework in place for making significant food safety improvements. I am optimistic that we can, working together, make all foods safer for the public.
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Food Safety Education and Communications Staff
Public Outreach and Communications
Phone: (202) 720-9352
Fax: (202) 720-9063
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