U.S. Regulatory Perspective/Update on Food Safety
U.S. Regulatory Perspective/Update on Food Safety
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Alfred V. Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, International Association for Food Protection, St. Louis, Missouri, August 1, 2016
Good afternoon and thank you for having me here today. It’s a pleasure to be here, and to partner again on this panel with the Food and Drug Administration.
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.
There are several topics that I would like to discuss today including: collaboration, modernization, and FSIS’s goals and accomplishments. Afterwards, I’ll be happy to take any questions you might have.
Over the past nine years, I’ve had the honor of leading the Agency through a great period of modernization. We’ve been able to adopt a risk-based, data-driven approach to prevent foodborne illnesses, rather than reacting after something goes wrong.
We have accomplished this in the form of tighter and more strategic food safety requirements for food companies, enhanced consumer engagement, and smart innovations to our internal processes.
We’ve prevented tons of mislabeled food from entering commerce, and worked with companies to tighten their labeling protocols.
And above all, we’ve moved the needle on foodborne illness, watching cases attributed to USDA-regulated product drop by 12 percent.
The work we do here at FSIS is not alone. The communication FSIS has with other agencies and partners makes us more effective and improves our responses—particularly during recalls and outbreaks.
That’s why I’m pleased that FSIS is a part of the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), which was created in 2011 and brings together senior leaders and technical experts on food safety attribution from CDC, FDA and FSIS. Through our collaboration, we strive to improve the coordination of Federal food safety analytic efforts and address cross-cutting priorities for food safety data collection, analysis and use. IFSAC is proof that the Agencies can and do work together to make meaningful progress toward achieving a common goal.
Many of you are also familiar with the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, which is referred to as FoodNet. This network conducts surveillance for pathogen infections that are diagnosed by laboratory testing of samples from patients. FSIS has been largely involved 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.
In addition, FSIS collaborates with national security organizations, such as the FBI, to mitigate vulnerabilities in food defense. Recently, the FBI launched a Commercial Facilities Food Defense Initiative (CFFDI) in collaboration with FSIS, FDA, and DHS in order to implement food defense measures at stadiums and arenas in cities throughout America.
There are great opportunities to further collaborate with outside organizations—especially in the areas of recall, investigation, inspection, and assessing whether retailers are following the best practices contained in FSIS guidance.
Modernization and Prevention
At FSIS, we are always looking for ways to modernize our approach using science-based strategies reduce the presence of pathogens in our nation’s food supply. This involves collaborating and communicating with the public—including our partners in foreign governments, industry, stakeholder groups, state and local government, and academia.
This year, we finalized new standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings. These standards and new testing protocols 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 in FSIS…policies that are based on science, supported by strong data, and ones that will truly improve public health.
As you know, we’ve been modernizing inspection and one of the ways we have done this is through the New Poultry Inspection System. Our food safety inspectors are now better equipped to verify that establishments are maintaining effective HACCP systems, which is a more effective and efficient way to use our inspection resources. Additionally, the system allows poultry slaughter establishments to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors.
We’re going to continue to modernize by introducing a similar approach for hog slaughter. There are currently 5 hog slaughter establishments participating in the HACCP-based inspection models project. This project has allowed us to collect a lot of data and we are aiming to have a proposed rule for swine modernization very soon.
Whole Genome Sequencing
With regard to data, one other way that we are looking at modernizing is through the use of Whole Genome Sequencing.
Our budget request for FY2017 focused on advancements in Whole Genome Sequencing, Advanced Analytics, and Expanded Lab Analysis.
Scientific advances in Whole Genome Sequencing and lab analysis will further increase the quality and quantity of data that we can use to reduce foodborne illnesses.
By sequencing the genomes of foodborne pathogens we can characterize them in a more timely manner; making laboratory surveillance more efficient and useful.
FSIS’ Advanced Analytics initiative is another example of our focus on modernizing through data collection. Advanced Analytics will improve FSIS’s ability to analyze current and future data, helping our analysts in turning it into useful information.
Over the last few years, we went from the Performance Based Inspection System (PBIS) to the Public Health Information System (PHIS). The availability of PHIS data makes for more timely and efficient analysis of food safety inspection related trends, which can help us take quicker action to protect the public health.
When combined, Whole Genome Sequencing and Advanced Analytics should help us to greatly decrease illnesses by using data to inform our future enforcement activities and our policies.
But we aren’t stopping there—we know how important it is to be transparent as a government Agency, and that’s why FSIS is focusing on not only improving data collection, but also improving data transparency.
We are also giving consumers more information about individual plant performance by web-posting categories of poultry establishments to illustrate whether these establishments are exceeding, meeting, or failing our new performance standards for poultry establishment.
We are doing all of this to spur innovation and create best practices, because that is how government should be.
Before I end, I’d like to cover a few of our recent policy accomplishments.
Mechanically Tenderized Beef
Last year, FSIS published a new rule for Mechanically Tenderized Beef and the new requirements became effective this May. 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.
Retail Grinding Logs Rule
We also released a grinding logs rule this past December. This final rule will help to reduce foodborne illnesses by preventing adulterated products from reaching consumers through improved trace-back activities.
FSIS is requiring official establishments and retail stores that grind raw beef products to keep records of the suppliers and source materials that they use, so that in the event of an illness outbreak, investigators can more quickly identify the source of the illnesses than they can today without this information.
When foodborne illness outbreaks occur, public health officials work to trace ground beef product back to its source so that any potentially unsafe product can be removed from commerce, and that the circumstances that caused the contamination can be identified and addressed. Keeping complete records for all beef grinding activity will facilitate FSIS’s efforts to trace the contaminated product back to the source establishment and thereby to conduct effective recalls in a timely manner. Making sure potentially-contaminated product is quickly removed from commerce will halt outbreaks and prevent additional illnesses.
This final rule supports core principles developed by the President’s Food Safety Working Group, namely prioritizing prevention and improving response and recovery.
Retail Lm Deli Project
In January 2016, FSIS launched a nationwide pilot project to assess whether retailers are using the recommendations in the FSIS “Best Practices Guidance for Controlling Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in Retail Delicatessens” (FSIS Retail Lm Guideline).
As part of the pilot project, FSIS Compliance Investigators will complete a questionnaire based on the FSIS Retail Lm Guideline to determine whether retailers are following specific recommendations from the guidance.The questionnaire will be used to compare the practices observed in retail delis to the FSIS Retail Lm Guideline in the following topics: product handling, cleaning and sanitizing, facility and equipment controls, and employee practices.
FSIS will track the questionnaire responses over time to determine whether there is an increase in retailers adopting the recommendations in the guideline.
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.
We at FSIS really appreciate and value all of the hard work you all do to defend food safety and thank you for all of your great efforts. I will now take this time to answer any questions you may have.