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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Oral Statement of Al Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Before the the Committee on Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives

Introduction

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Peterson, and members of the Committee, I am the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the United States Department of Agriculture and I would like to thank you for the opportunity to come before you today to discuss our food safety mission.

To start, I would like to extend the invitation to any of you to accompany me on a plant tour. A tour of an FSIS-regulated establishment is the best way to see what our inspectors on the line are doing on a daily basis to protect the public’s health.

Each year, 1 in 6 Americans is affected by foodborne illness. The highest priority of our Agency is to prevent as many of these illnesses as we possibly can. The meat on your plate is thoroughly inspected by the dedicated men and women of FSIS to ensure that you don’t get sick.

What we do

While we are modernizing the way we do things, carcass-by-carcass inspection remains the cornerstone of our work. Our system of inspection is the most reliable in the world, and I take great pride in the work that our inspectors perform each day. I began my own career nearly 40 years ago as a line inspector in Dalhart, Texas.

Today, billions of pounds of meat, poultry, and egg products are produced, transported, and sold every year. A system of this magnitude requires constant vigilance to prevent the possibility of foodborne illness.

FSIS is required to have inspectors present across the country in every plant that processes meat, poultry, and egg products. The Agency employs approximately 9,000 people, and 80% of them work in establishments. During Fiscal Year 2015, FSIS personnel inspected almost 150 million head of livestock, 9 billion poultry carcasses, and over 3 billion pounds of processed egg products. In addition, FSIS conducted nearly 7 million food safety and defense procedures last year.

Looking Forward

With Congress’ support, we have begun to modernize how we do inspection. Our modernization efforts will lead to fewer illnesses from meat, poultry, and egg products. We recently updated the 60 year-old poultry safety system by implementing a final rule that requires plants to do testing at two points in the slaughter line to verify process control. The rule requires plants to treat Salmonella and Campylobacter as hazards that are reasonably likely to occur. Finally, it makes the New Poultry Inspection System available to plants throughout the country.

Last month, we finalized the first ever pathogen reduction standards for chicken parts. Eighty percent of chicken that Americans consume is in the form of parts. These new standards, along with our new standards for comminuted poultry, could help to prevent an estimated 50,000 foodborne illnesses. As we move forward, our focus on modernization has us looking at ways to modernize pork and beef slaughter.

One of the most significant changes I’ve seen in my time with FSIS has been the shift from paper to the Public Health Information System, or PHIS, which allows the Agency to collect inspection data in one central location. We aim to amplify our use of this data to identify trends, connect the dots, and make meaningful improvements in public health.

We are also laying the groundwork for continued modernization in the years ahead as we develop our new five-year Strategic Plan. Building on this theme of modernization we are strengthening our use of science. We are seeking to expand our use of Whole Genome Sequencing technology, which will provide FSIS with a much better understanding of what it means when we find pathogens in the products we test. With Whole Genome Sequencing and improvements in analytics, we will be able to respond more quickly and more effectively to foodborne outbreaks should they occur.

Conclusion

As a public health agency committed to achieving excellence, FSIS continuously tracks performance, modernizes methodology, and applies science-based approaches to the work that we do. I know first-hand the hard work that dedicated men and women do each day to ensure that we have the safest food supply in the world. Because of this work, millions of Americans enjoy safe and wholesome meals each day. Thank you for your continued support.

Last Modified Mar 25, 2016