2015 North American Meat Institute Conference
Remarks before 2015 NAMI Conference
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, North American Meat Institute, Carlsbad, CA, April 18, 2015
Good morning and thanks for having me. It’s great to be here today.
FSIS is committed to protecting food safety, and I know all of you in the industry realize how important safe food is for public health.
In fact, just last week, we celebrated World Health Day and the World Health Organization designated this year’s theme as food safety with the slogan, “from farm to plate, make food safe.”
Well, that’s what all of us here are committed to doing, day in and day out, and I’m glad we can all come together to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing food safety today.
This morning, I will provide you with a few highlights of our accomplishments from last year and give you some sense of our priorities for 2015. And then, I’ll be happy to answer questions you may have.
We are continuing in our efforts to modernize our approach to food safety. This involves collaborating and communicating with the public—including our partners in foreign governments, industry, stakeholder groups, state and local government, and academia.
FSIS’s primary goal is to prevent foodborne illness by reducing pathogens in meat, poultry and processed egg products.
I know that NAMI is committed to keeping your members informed of food policy issues and also exploring new, science-based methods to modernize food safety.
At FSIS, we are also working hard to build on modernization efforts and I know that our both of our organizations understand the importance of using science-based strategies to solve pathogen issues.
All of us here are working hard to meet that goal. And we all are dedicated daily to modernization and improvement in our methods to protect the nation’s food supply.
I’m glad we can come together today to discuss ways that we will further reduce outbreaks of these pathogens by using improved technology methods which are rooted in science.
As you know, fighting Salmonella is a critical agency priority.
Salmonellosis is the foodborne illness most associated with the products we regulate, with more than 1 million cases of illnesses each year.
Members of Congress and the media are also paying close attention to Salmonella outbreaks in particular.
At the end of February, I was on Capitol Hill for a hearing to talk about our 2016 budget requests.
While there, I was able to tell Congress a bit about our strategies and goals related to Salmonella reduction through our Salmonella Action Plan.
In January, we posted to our website our one-year update report on the plan, which highlights a lot of what I am telling you here today if you want to take a look at that.
And in January we also issued proposed new performance standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter.
These are the first ever standards for chicken parts, and tougher standards for ground and comminuted poultry products.
We estimate that these new standards will lead to 50,000 fewer illnesses per year, putting us on target to meet our Healthy People 2020 goals.
With Salmonella, we’re focusing most of our attention on poultry products. Of the products we regulate, poultry products are responsible for the greatest share of salmonellosis cases.
We know that beef and pork do contribute to the Salmonella numbers and so we’re going to take a closer look at these product classes.
FSIS combined some of our programs for sampling raw beef back in July, so that we can co-analyze Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.
From this new approach to methods, we’ll be able to evaluate results and determine future performance steps.
The exploratory sampling plan is still being developed. We will publish it in the Federal Register before implementing.
New Poultry Inspection System
Another way we are attacking Salmonella pursuant to the Salmonella Action Plan is through our efforts to modernize our approach to poultry slaughter inspection.
In 2014, we made a major advance in this effort by publishing a final rule on poultry slaughter inspection and beginning the implementation of the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS).
As a result of the final rule, poultry slaughter plants have begun sampling their products at two points on the slaughter line, both before and after the chiller, each day.
The goal of this testing is to verify that plants are controlling the presence of enteric pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter on their products.
The rule also led to the New Poultry Inspection System that is also designed to reduce the risk posed by Salmonella in poultry.
A risk assessment that was done by FSIS shows that an inspection system that provides for increased off-line inspection activities that are directly related to food safety results in greater compliance with sanitation and HACCP regulations.
In addition, these activities lead to poultry carcasses that have lower levels of visible fecal contamination and equivalent or lower levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination.
The risk assessment has been peer-reviewed and estimates that this new approach to inspection will prevent approximately 5,000 foodborne illnesses each year.
The New Poultry Inspection System is just one example of how we are using science to understand foodborne illness and emerging trends and developing effective policies.
Another example of our efforts to reduce pathogens early on is the proposed rule we announced in July of 2014, which would require that retail outlets keep clear records on sources for ground beef products.
We are in the process of reviewing the comments received on this rule and developing a document to submit for final approval. We hope to finalize that this year.
These records would identify the source, supplier and names of all materials used in preparation of raw ground beef products.
This would help improve traceback capabilities and prevent foodborne illness.
To build even further on this effort, we announced new expedited traceback and traceforward procedures in August that will allow FSIS to trace contaminated ground beef to its source more quickly, by conducting immediate investigations at businesses whose ground beef tests positive for E. coli O157:H7 during initial testing and at suppliers that provided source materials.
Prior to that we only began investigations at the grinding facility after a presumptive positive test result was confirmed, and then at the supplier facility even later than that, losing valuable time.
We need to be able to remove unsafe product from commerce much faster, and these new procedures allow us to do that.
Mechanically Tenderized Beef
As we look toward the future, we also hope to finalize the proposed mechanically tenderized beef rule, which is currently with OMB.
As you know, we proposed this rule in summer 2013, to identify these products to consumers and add new cooking instructions so consumers and restaurants can prepare these products safely.
We know research shows that the mechanical tenderization process may transfer pathogens from the outside of the meat into the meat, which poses a greater risk to public health than intact beef products.
It only makes sense that we educate consumers on this so they can cook beef products safely.
All of these efforts really speak to our goal of ensuring that we do have the safest food supply in the world.
Consumers and countries can have confidence that our products are safe to eat.
Enhanced food safety increases consumer confidence, and safe products create, maintain, and expand markets for U.S. exports, which more and more countries agree are produced within a first-class food safety system.
That’s good for us, that’s good for trade, and that’s good for business.
We are a regulatory agency, but we certainly do want U.S. companies to have a high export potential and be competitive in a global marketplace.
Last year, the U.S. exported 2.3 trillion dollars of goods and services, an all-time high—including record-breaking performances across the whole economy, from agriculture to manufacturing to services.
Over the past year, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka all lifted longstanding restrictions to provide for full access to safe, wholesome U.S. beef and beef products.
This is why other nations strive to emulate our system. Safe food opens new markets from the European Union to Asia to Latin America.
Our strong standards for food safety are the reason for this.
I am proud of FSIS’s commitment to food safety and the high bar that we’ve set with our initiatives.
Food safety is receiving heightened attention and I don’t see that changing.
We have started the year off strong, and together, with your help, I know we can continue to make significant improvements in preventing foodborne illness.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you all today, and if there are any questions, I can take those now.