Hunger Free Texans
Hunger Free Texans: Remarks by Dr. Daniel Engeljohn
Remarks by Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, FSIS Assistant Administrator, OPPD, Hunger Free Texans event, NRG Park, May 19, 2016
Good morning. Thank you for having me today and thank you, Aaron, for that introduction. I’m Dan Engeljohn, the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Policy and Program Development at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (or FSIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I’m so pleased to speak to you all and also learn about the issues that you work on to improve food access and better nutrition.
The Agency I help lead is responsible for protecting public health and safeguarding America’s food supply through the daily inspection of meat, poultry, and processed egg products. As Aaron mentioned, FSIS works to ensure that the meat and poultry products that consumers eat every day is safe.
USDA has an important challenge in our strategic plan and that is to: "Ensure That Americans Have Access to Safe, Nutritious, and Balanced Meals."
While the U.S. food supply system is one of the safest in the world, foodborne illness is still a common, costly—yet largely preventable—public health problem.That is where our agency comes in; FSIS’s core mission is to protect public health.
Today, tens of billions of pounds of meat and poultry and billions of pounds of liquid egg products are produced, transported, and sold every year. American consumers spend about 617 billion dollars annually on food, with purchases of meat and poultry making up a large portion of that total.
When we stop and think about it, that is almost one billion meals a day and behind the scenes are dedicated public servants working to keep Americans safe. We have more than 7600 inspectors in more than 6000 establishments who inspect product every day. FSIS employs a host of skilled professionals—from inspectors, to veterinarians, to scientists, to mathematicians—who form a dynamic workforce. These professionals bring a scientific and data-driven approach to our public health responsibilities. This science drives our policy and informs our inspection so that we are prepared to address food safety threats.
You may be familiar with FSIS as the Agency that conducts recalls of meat, poultry, and processed egg products that have been adulterated or misbranded.Recalls are a method we use to ensure that unsafe food is removed from commerce. I’d like to touch a little on the recall process now so you can understand more about our regulatory activities.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the recall process, a food recall is a voluntary action by a manufacturer or distributor to protect the public from products that may cause health problems or possible death.
The problem can be identified in several ways. A problem with a product is identified through various sources including the firm, the Agency, or sources outside of the Agency:
- Often, we receive information from in-plant inspectors and program investigators during their routine duties.
- We also have labs throughout the country, and our scientists who do continuous testing on our FSIS products may find a positive result for pathogen or misbranding issue in a product.
- Sometimes, the company may inform FSIS of a potential hazard through their own discovery.
- We also may receive information from outbreak investigations, or data from State or local public health departments, or other public health Agencies.
- Additionally, FSIS receives complaints from consumers about a product.
- All of these discoveries can lead to a recall, which is an action to ensure that unsafe product is removed from commerce.
While recalls are voluntary, FSIS does have the legal authority to detain and seize products in commerce if a company refuses to recall those products. FSIS has used this authority in the past to ensure that adulterated and unwholesome product is removed from commerce.
There are three classes of recalls. Class I recalls have the greatest potential of having adverse health effects. Class II recalls have a reasonable probability of causing adverse health effects, and Class III recalls involve situations where eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.
When there is a reason to believe that an adulterated or misbranded product has entered commerce, the FSIS Recall Management Division convenes a recall committee, which consists of FSIS scientists, technical experts, field inspection managers, enforcement personnel and communications specialists. This committee comes together to evaluate information about the product in question. Then, the committee notifies the company of its recommendations. If the company agrees to recall the product, FSIS distributes a press release to the public, which informs them of the products they should avoid or discard.
After a recall, consumers can view the press release on our website, which contains useful information such as the product use-by dates and labels. In instances where the product was distributed to retail locations, a retail distribution list is posted once it is available.
Our recall releases also contain resources for the public. People who may have consumed a recalled product or have questions can talk by phone or chat to our food safety professionals on the Meat and Poultry Hotline, who are available during business hours throughout the week. The Hotline receives more than 80,000 calls each year.
Food Safety Regulation in the U.S.
You may also have heard about recalls through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one of our Federal partners, and they are part of the Department of Health and Human Services. FSIS works closely with FDA and CDC as part of an all-government approach to making sure consumers have safe food.
While my Agency at USDA regulates meat, poultry, and processed egg products, FDA regulates and conducts recalls on everything else—meaning fruits, vegetables, shell eggs, and dairy, to name a few. At FSIS, we prioritize in-plant inspection and conduct daily inspection, while FDA’s inspection process is somewhat different.
While we regulate different products than FDA, we work very closely with our Federal public health agencies, including FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By doing this, we are able to streamline coordination of Federal food safety analytic efforts and share information with our partners. Our communication with our partner agencies makes FSIS more effective and improves our responses, particularly during recalls and outbreaks.
In 2011, we created the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, or IFSAC, which brings together senior leaders and technical experts on food safety attribution from these agencies. The current focus of the IFSAC is to discuss foodborne illness source attribution, which estimates the most common food sources responsible for specific foodborne illness.
In addition to the IFSAC, we have ongoing communication with our partners through the numerous cross-agency workgroups that enable food safety to be properly vetted.
One major focus of our agency has been to modernize. We are focusing on a theme of investment so that we can build on our ability to utilize the results of our analyses, enhance the value of our data, and improve our sampling methods.
Today, FSIS relies on scientific analysis when making our decisions. All decisions and policy changes are supported by sound science. We use scientific risk assessment to focus on mitigating foodborne risks for consumers.
FSIS’ commitment to modernizing scientific approaches for food safety is based on the tremendous advances that are being made in food safety technology. By adopting these new and innovative advances, we will be able to strategically improve food safety. For example, the Agency has identified testing gaps for product classes and pathogens that need to be addressed. Already, our emphasis on science and our efforts to modernize food safety have significantly contributed to the overall decline in bacterial foodborne illness.
New Food Safety Regulations
Much of our work focuses on creating new policies that will protect consumers.
One example of this is the grinding logs rule that we released this past December. The rule requires retail outlets and Federal establishments to keep clear records on sources for ground beef products. These records will identify the source, supplier, and names of all materials used in preparation of raw ground beef products. More record-keeping help improve trace-back capabilities and prevent foodborne illness. The final rule will improve trace-back capabilities and it prevents foodborne illness.
The final rule will enhance our expedited trace-back and trace-forward procedures that were announced in August 2014. These will allow FSIS to trace contaminated ground beef to the 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
In May of last year, FSIS published the final rule requiring mechanically tenderized products to indicate that they have been mechanically tenderized and to provide appropriate cooking instructions on the label. The new requirements became effective this past Tuesday, one year from the date of the rule’s publication in the federal register.
We proposed this rule to identify these products to consumers and add new cooking instructions so consumers and restaurants can prepare these products safely.
Research has shown 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.
Under the final rule, mechanically tenderized products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade, or needle tenderized. The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so that consumers know how to safely prepare them. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.
It only makes sense that we make instructions clear for consumers and restaurants—we see fewer illnesses when people are better educated about and prepared.
Food Safety Education
While we do everything we can to prevent foodborne illness, there are steps consumers can also take to protect themselves from getting sick. So for this reason, we also are committed to educating consumers.
Last year, we released our FoodKeeper smartphone application, which is available for Android and Apple smart phones and tablets. The application is part of a larger effort between USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to reduce food waste. By explaining how the shelf life of products change depending on their storage method, users are able to choose the storage method that will keep products fresher longer than if they were not stored properly. The app also provides safe food storage and handling information to protect consumers from foodborne illness. So far, more than 100,000 people have downloaded the app. Our update to the app in June will include a Spanish version.
In addition we work with partners across the nation including La Raza, Cooperative Extensions, National Council on Aging and others to help spread the message on food safety education
Much of our social media success has resulted from seasonal campaigns such as Thanksgiving and events such as the Super Bowl, but we’ve also begun inserting food safety into trending topics and news worthy events. During the Houston floods last year, FSIS used our social media accounts to post an infographic with information on how to minimize food loss and reduce the risk of foodborne illness during power outages and floods. The post was the most popular message last year on our Twitter account. More importantly, we were able to reach many Texans and provide important information in a convenient, expeditious manner.
In addition, some of the staff from FSIS travel across the country with our “Food Safety Discovery Zone,” to promote food safety and consumer education. The Food Safety Discovery Zone is a mobile, interactive food safety exhibit that teaches people the basics of safe food handling. Just last month, the Zone was in Ft. Worth for the Mayfest event and at Texas Tech University in Lubbock for students and the community. Right now, the Zone is headed out to New Mexico and Colorado, where the staff will attend other local events to interact with and provide food safety outreach to consumers.
Every day, 350 million Americans gather around dinner tables and share one of the most basic of human interactions—a meal. And how often do we hesitate or worry about the food we are feeding our families? Most often we do not— and that is because of the dedicated public servants of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
But we can’t do it alone. Ensuring that we have the safest food available takes cooperation from government, scientists, educators, consumers, and industry. This cooperation is necessary when dealing with the complex issues of food safety.
I’m so glad I could be here today to share how USDA is ensuring safe food for Texans, and also for consumers in the U.S. and around the world. I will now take this time to answer any questions you may have.