Secretary Vilsack Issues Broad Statement On Food Safety

Following recent media coverage involving the regulation of our food supply, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement highlighting the continuing efforts of USDA to ensure that our food remains as safe as it can be. Click on the following link to view the USDA Statement.

“Over the last eight months since President Obama took office,” said Vilsack, “the USDA has been aggressive in its efforts to improve food safety, and has been an active partner in establishing and contributing to President Obama's Food Safety Working Group.”

"Protecting public health is the sole mission of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS has continued to make improvements to reduce the presence of E. coli O157:H7 and the agency is committed to working to reduce the incidence of food-borne illnesses caused by this pathogen.

"Shortly after coming into office, the Administration created a high-level Food Safety Working Group to coordinate food safety policies, focus greater resources on prevention, and improve response to outbreaks. Since doing so, we have taken the following actions:

  • Launched an initiative to cut down E. Coli contamination (including in particular contamination from E. Coli O157:H7) and as part of that initiative, stepped-up meat facility inspections involving greater use of sampling to monitor the products going into ground beef;
  • Appointed a chief medical officer within USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service to reaffirm its role as a public health agency;
  • Issued draft guidelines for industry to further reduce the risk of O157 contamination;
  • Started testing additional components of ground beef, including bench trim, and issuing new instructions to our employees asking that they verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses; and
  • Designed the Public Health Information System (PHIS) in response to lessons learned in past outbreaks.

According to Vilsack, "the USDA is also looking at ways to enhance trace back methods and will initiate a rulemaking in the near future to require all grinders, including establishments and retail stores, to keep accurate records of the sources of each lot of ground beef."

"No priority is greater to me than food safety," said Vilsack, "and I am firmly committed to taking the steps necessary to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness and protect the American people from preventable illnesses. We will continue to make improvements to reduce the presence of E. coli 0157:H7."

Because there is no technology (with the exception of irradiation or cooking), however, to ensure that raw animal products can be made sterile, FSIS continues to remind consumers that thoroughly cooking raw animal products to an internal temperature of 160 degrees will destroy any pathogens that may be present, and will render the products safe.