Progress in implementing Food Safety Working Group recommendations

July 14, 2010

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius commended federal food safety agencies for their accomplishments supporting the charge of President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group, which advises the President on how to upgrade the U.S. food safety system for the 21st century. The Food Safety Working Group, chaired by Vilsack and Sebelius, recommended a public health-focused approach to food safety based on three core principles: prioritizing prevention; strengthening inspection and enforcement; and improving response and recovery.

Prioritizing Prevention

  • Salmonella in poultry and eggs: USDA issued revised draft standards for the presence of Salmonella;HHS issued a rule to control Salmonella contamination of eggs during production, storage, and transportation.
  • Produce safety: HHS issued commodity-specific draft guidance documents to industry on agricultural practices to reduce the risk of microbial contamination in the production and distribution of tomatoes, melons, and leafy greens and is developing a proposed produce safety rule.
  • E. coli O157:H7 in beef products: USDA began a new verification testing program for beef bench trim and issued draft guidelines on methods for controlling E. coli O157:H7 on the farm, before cattle come to slaughter.
  • Laboratory diagnosis of E. coli: In October 2009, HHS published new guidance for clinical laboratories to improve diagnosis and surveillance for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections.
  • Campylobacter: USDA proposed the first ever standards for Campylobacter in poultry.
  • Measuring progress on food safety: HHS and USDA are developing feasible and effective food safety metrics, with a joint meeting scheduled for July 21 in Chicago.

Strengthening Inspection and Enforcement

  • Reportable Food Registry: HHS launched the Reportable Food Registry (RFR), an electronic portal for industry and public health officials to report when there is reasonable probability that a food item will cause serious adverse health consequences.
  • Environmental assessments: USDA and HHS are developing a training program for environmental health specialists on how to properly conduct an environmental assessment during a foodborne outbreak investigation, leading to quicker and more definitive results.
  • Data analysis: USDA is preparing to launch a dramatically improved surveillance and data collection and analysis system in the fall.

Improving Response and Recovery

  • Improving disease surveillance: HHS launched a new Web-based surveillance platform to enhance the speed and completeness of foodborne outbreak reports, and developed an online database to make the data more easily accessible by the public.
  • Product tracing systems: HHS and USDA held a public meeting on steps the food industry can take to establish product tracing systems and are seeking public comment.
  • Collaborative investigation or identification of outbreaks: Since July 2009, HHS has coordinated or led more than 15 major multistate outbreak food-related investigations.
  • Supporting State and Local Health Agencies: HHS supported eight domestic training courses on epidemiological and laboratory methods related to food safety, and trained 20 state public health laboratories in the new molecular Salmonella serotyping method.
  • Rapid response to contamination incidents: HHS and USDA formed an “Improving Foodborne Outbreak Investigations” working group to determine and implement best practices, including training, early detection, communications, and response.
  • New consumer communication technologies: HHS and USDA rolled out an enhanced and updated Web site.
  • Incident Command System: Federal agencies implemented a new incident command system that links all relevant agencies to address outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Press release