International Association for Food Protection
U.S. Regulatory Perspective on Food Safety
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, with Mike Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods, FDA, before the International Association for Food Protection, Portland, Oregon, July 28, 2015
Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here today. It’s great to be here with all of you and to share this session with Mike Taylor, our counterpart at FDA.
Today I will provide you with a few regulatory updates and also discuss priorities for collaboration. And then, I’ll be happy to answer questions you may have.
At FSIS, 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.
You’ve probably seen a few presentations from the staff at FSIS over the past few days.
Many specialists from FSIS have presented at this year’s conference to talk about some important developments such as: sampling programs, global trade issues, and foodborne illness attribution.
As you can see, FSIS has built a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise, reflecting the various efforts that are part of making our nation’s food safe.
We have made it a priority to be at this conference and to share our work with you.
It’s very important for FSIS to increase collaboration with groups like the International Association for Food Protection, who share our goals for advancement in food safety.
FSIS’ primary goal is to prevent foodborne illness by reducing pathogens in meat, poultry and processed egg products.
We are always finding ways to build on our modernization efforts and we are focusing on using science-based strategies to solve pathogen issues.
All of us here are dedicated daily to improvement in our methods to protect the nation’s food supply.
IAFP is truly the leading food safety conference and we look forward to this meeting every year so that we can further collaborate with food safety professionals from all different areas.
With that, I’ll give you a bit of an update of what we’ve been working on and what we hope to accomplish in the next few months.
Modernization and Prevention
You may have heard Dr. Dan Engeljohn from the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development speak earlier on a panel about advances in Poultry Slaughter Modernization.
At the end of January, we proposed new standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings.
These proposed standards and new testing patterns will have a major impact on public health, potentially preventing over 50,000 illnesses annually.
This is a perfect example of the type of proactive, prevention-based food policy that we’re focused on at FSIS…policies that are based on science, supported by strong data, and ones that will truly improve public health.
These proposed standards, along with the New Poultry Inspection System, are part of our overall Salmonella Action Plan to reduce Salmonella-related illnesses.
MTB and Ground Beef Records
Another new rule that will help prevent pathogens is the Mechanically Tenderized Beef (MTB) Rule, which becomes effective in May 2016.
Research has demonstrated 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.
FSIS will require validated cooking instructions on mechanically tenderized beef products going to household consumers, hotels, restaurants, or similar institutions.
This rule is just one example of our Agency’s work to ensure that products are clearly labeled and that consumers receive proper food safety information.
We have also proposed to require that retail stores and establishments that grind beef maintain records on the suppliers of all source materials that they use in the preparation of each lot of raw ground beef that they produce.
Of the 130 outbreaks that FSIS investigated from 2007 through 2013, 74 were determined to be caused by the consumption of ground beef.
Of those 74, 31 were linked to beef ground at retail, but in a number of these outbreaks, the retailer did not maintain adequate records to identify the suppliers that provided the source materials.
We need to have the supplier information to be able to trace the outbreak back to its source. Being able to do so will help us to better understand how the contamination with the STEC occurred.
FSIS is developing the final rule and intends it to publish this calendar year.
Best Practices to Control Listeria at Retail
We are always looking for new ways to increase the safety of our consumers, wherever their food may come from.
Just last month, FSIS announced our “Best Practices Guidance for Controlling Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in retail delis.”
In fact, Kristina Barlow from our Office of Policy and Program Development will be speaking today at 1:30 about the revised guidelines and what they mean for retail.
By controlling sanitation in the post-lethality processing environment or implementing interventions in their products, establishments can ensure that their RTE products do not become contaminated with Lm.
The guide discusses steps that retailers can take to prevent certain ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, such as deli meats and deli salads, from being contaminated with Lm.
Retailers can use these best-practices to ensure that their meat and poultry products are safe for consumers.
There is also a self-assessment tool that retailers can use to monitor their own progress and find new solutions for problems.
While these practices are designed to control Lm specifically, they also may help control other food borne pathogens that may be introduced into the retail deli environment and other facilities where consumers take possession of food.
FSIS regulates all of the imported meat, poultry, and processed egg products that enter our country.
It’s very important to foster strong communication with our trade partners by offering necessary guidance that, in turn, builds trust and understanding.
That trust between countries is enhanced by reliance on science and transparency. Trust allows countries to trade with one another with confidence.
A science-based approach to preventing contamination is one of the surest ways to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses.
FSIS is applying this science-based approach to the more than 6,000 facilities that we regulate in the United States.
Over time, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that these facilities are putting the safest possible product on store shelves.
In taking these steps, we’ve collaborated with our stakeholders and communicated with the public—which leads to better and more effective food safety policies.
FSIS’s transparent risk assessments, coupled with the public comment process for establishing new regulations, makes for one of the safest food supplies and most trusted inspection systems in the world.
In order to keep that trust, we must gain assurances that products from other countries are safe.
We do that by verifying that the exporting country maintains an inspection system that is equivalent to that of the United States.
We maintain these strict standards of government inspection so that consumers worldwide have the safest food available.
Strong regulatory cooperation creates a trust that allows us to trade with one another with confidence. That trust between countries is enhanced by reliance on science and transparency.
To further build on the trust in the safety of U.S. products, FSIS focuses much of our efforts on building accountability internally and promoting transparency with our partners across the globe.
I’m glad to be here today with all of you at IAFP and with leaders of organizations and agencies that share the same commitment to food safety as FSIS does.
As you know, we live in a rapidly changing and growing world, so increased communication with our partner agencies, especially during recalls and outbreaks just makes us more effective.
That’s why we have things like the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), which was created in 2011.
Some of you may have heard a bit about IFSAC and their recent work on Sunday afternoon during the Symposium on Foodborne Illness Source Attribution.
IFSAC brings together senior leaders and technical experts on food safety attribution from CDC, FDA, and FSIS to improve coordination of Federal food safety analytic efforts and address cross-cutting priorities for food safety data collection, analysis and use.
CDC, FDA, and FSIS have unique roles and jurisdictions, but they share a common goal of improving public health. IFSAC is proof that the Agencies can and do work together to make meaningful progress toward achieving that goal.
This year, one of IFSAC’s major successes was developing harmonized attribution estimates for Salmonella, E. coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, and Campylobacter for major food categories and hosting a public meeting, with over 200 people in attendance in-person and online, to share those findings.
Improved estimates of foodborne illness source attribution derived from outbreak data can inform efforts to prioritize food safety initiatives, interventions, and policies for reducing foodborne illnesses.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts embodied in IFSAC, our future work to ensure food safety will be better informed, better targeted, and more effective.
Many of you are familiar with FoodNet—the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network—which conducts surveillance for the most pathogen infections that are diagnosed by laboratory testing of samples from patients.
We have been an active and funding partner in FoodNet since its launch in 1995.
FSIS, FDA, and CDC, have also worked together on other areas like the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, PulseNet, Whole Genome Sequencing, and Food Defense, just to name a few.
On that note, I think there is great opportunity to further collaborate with outside organizations—especially in the area of recalls, illness investigations, inspections, and assessing whether retailers are practicing the best practices contained in the FSIS guidance.
FSIS intends to assess, over time, whether there is increased awareness and application of the science-based best practices.
While we do everything we can to prevent foodborne illness, there are certainly things consumers can also do to protect themselves from getting sick. So for this reason, we also spend a great deal of time on educating consumers.
In fact, we released our FoodKeeper application this past April, 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 provides information to ensure that food is still fresh enough to eat, protecting consumers and their loved ones from foodborne illness.
So far, more than 70,000 people have downloaded the app.
In addition, several news outlets including: Time Magazine, Mashable, and Politico also recently recognized FSIS for effective and creative use of social media as a way to educate consumers about food safety.
Many of our social media success has resulted from our seasonal campaigns that we always conduct during holidays like Thanksgiving and events such as the Super Bowl, but we’ve also began inserting food safety into trending topics and news worthy events.
During the Houston floods, 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 received 50,000 impressions on Facebook and 70,000 impressions on Twitter, making it the most popular message ever on our Twitter account.
FSIS also works with the Ad Council to deliver public service announcements and outreach so that consumers have effective tools and information to keep in-home food safe.
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.
Right now, the FY15 tour is continuing in the Midwest, where the staff will attend state fairs and other local events to interact with and provide food safety outreach to consumers.
It takes cooperation from government, scientists, educators, consumers, industry and others to protect public health most effectively.
This cooperation is necessary when dealing with the complex issues of food safety. Individuals and organizations all have valuable input and a different way of looking at things.
If you’ll be sticking around today, I encourage you to listen to our FSIS panelists who will be presenting.
As I mentioned earlier, Kristina Barlow will be speaking about the FSIS Retail Listeria Guidelines at 1:30.
At 3:00, FSIS’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Goldman, will be giving a presentation called “Food Safety at USDA-FSIS: A Vision for the Future.”
We at FSIS really appreciate and value all of the hard work you all do to defend food safety. Thank you for all of your great efforts.
I will now take this time to answer any questions you may have.