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USDA Results: Food Safety

Over the past seven years, USDA has collaborated extensively with other federal partners to safeguard America's food supply, prevent foodborne illnesses and improve consumers' knowledge about the food they eat. We are working to strengthen federal food safety efforts and develop strategies that emphasize a three-pronged approach to prevent foodborne illness: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery.

Prioritizing Prevention

  • Adopted a zero tolerance policy for raw beef products containing six strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli, giving products that test positive for these six pathogens the same illegal and unsafe status USDA has long given products testing positive for E. coli O157:H7. Enforcement to detect these pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers began in March 2012.
  • Set tougher standards for Salmonella and new standards for Campylobacter on poultry carcasses, which will reduce the occurrence of these pathogens in poultry. USDA expects these actions to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses annually.
  • Developed the first ever Salmonella and Campylobacter standards for chicken parts, which are more commonly purchased than whole carcasses. USDA estimates these new standards will reduce illnesses by about 50,000 annually, helping the agency meet Healthy People 2020 goals.
  • Finalized the most significant update to poultry food safety inspections since 1957, requiring for the first time ever that that all poultry facilities take measures to prevent Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination, rather than addressing contamination after it occurs. They must also perform their own microbiological testing at two points in their production process to show that they are controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter. The agency has improved its own testing strategy in poultry plants, which it continues to perform in addition to the increased testing by facilities.
  • Introduced the optional New Poultry Inspection System, an updated science-based inspection system that positions food safety inspectors throughout poultry facilities in a smarter way. This system allows for FSIS inspectors to focus less on routine quality assurance tasks that have little relationship to preventing pathogens like Salmonella and instead focus more on strategies that are proven to strengthen food safety. More inspectors will now be available to more frequently remove birds from the evisceration line for close food safety examinations, take samples for testing, check plant sanitation, verify compliance with food safety plans, observe live birds for signs of disease or mistreatment, and ensuring plants are meeting all applicable regulations.
  • Issued a best practices guideline to help delis and other retails to decreasing the potential for Listeria monocytogenes contamination and prevent illnesses from this dangerous pathogen.
  • Ensured that beef products that have been mechanically tenderized are labeled as such and include validated cooking instructions so that household consumers, hotels, restaurants and similar institutions have necessary information to safely cook these products.
  • Assisted meat, poultry, and processed egg product producers with best practices guidance to properly manage ingredients that could trigger adverse reactions among consumers with allergies or other sensitivities.
  • Implemented in 2012 a new "test and hold" policy. Such a policy could have prevented 44 recalls of unsafe foods between 2007 and 2009. Facilities are now required to hold product until microbiological testing can determine whether it is safe to release into commerce. This policy will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products.
  • Launched the Public Health Information System, a modern, comprehensive data management system that is allowing the Agency to identify public health trends and food safety violations more effectively at more than 6,000 plants where FSIS ensures the safety of the products produced. In 2015, PHIS was connected to Customs and Border Patrol systems, which helps the two agencies work together to stop imported meat from entering commerce without necessary reinspection by U.S. food safety personnel.
  • Began testing additional components of ground beef, including bench trim, and issued new instructions to our employees directing them to verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses. We also issued more effective instructions to inspectors on how to inspect for E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
  • Announced new procedures that will allow the Agency to trace contaminated ground beef back to its source more quickly, remove it from commerce, and find the root cause of the incident to prevent it from recurring.
  • Required better record keeping by retail outlets that produce ground beef. Such records can help investigators more quickly determine the source of a foodborne illness outbreak and remove potentially contaminated product from commerce.
  • Worked closely with FDA and CDC on strengthening communications and collaboration. The three agencies have collectively formed the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration (IFSAC), which focuses on projects related to foodborne illness source attribution and will try to improve the classification of foods implicated in foodborne disease outbreaks.
  • Collaborated with FDA on the Food Safety Modernization Act's Produce Safety rulemaking process. Among other activities, USDA is providing technical assistance to FDA, developing research, education and outreach efforts to support producers of all sizes, and providing expertise in areas such as soil amendment use and the co-management of food safety and conservation goals.
  • Worked with 27 states to develop and administer State meat and poultry inspection (MPI) programs that implement food safety oversight that is "at least equal to" Federal requirements, helping more than 1,600 small and very small establishments produce and market meat and poultry products for local sale.
  • Continued assisting small plants through the Small Plant Help Desk that serves plant owners and operators with questions. FSIS received and responded to 2,042 inquiries in person, over the phone, and via email during FY2014.

Engaging and Educating Consumers

  • Teamed with the Ad Council to develop a national, multi-media food safety public education campaign to prevent cross-contamination and to ensure proper cooking and chilling. This multimedia campaign, developed in English and Spanish, uses a variety of media, including television, radio, print, social media tools and the Internet, and videos at check-out counters to highlight the importance of the four basic safe food handling practices: clean, separate, cook and chill. The campaign will educate consumers in order to help reduce foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.
  • Partnered with several non-governmental organizations to educate certain vulnerable groups of their higher risk of getting a foodborne illness. These organizations include: The National Council on Aging, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association, Mocha Moms, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Now It Counts Magazine, AIDS Project of East Bay, Massachusetts Partnership for Food Safety Education, Text4Baby, the National Association for Family Child Care, the Greater Washington Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
  • Required clearer product labels so consumers will know whether products they are purchasing contain marinades, brines or other added solutions that might not be visible to shoppers. We also now require nutrition labels on single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products to give consumers better information about the foods they are purchasing.
  • Developed the Foodkeeper application for smartphones and tablets that offers users valuable storage advice and food safety about more than 400 food and beverage items, including various types of baby food, dairy products and eggs, meat, poultry, produce, seafood, and more. The app is intended to help reduce food waste in addition to educating about proper food handling, and it has been downloaded over 90,000 times since it launched in April 2015.

Expanding Food Safety Research

  • Provided more than $112 million for food safety research, education and extension projects in Fiscal Year 2014 that will help build a modern public health system.
  • Conducted and funded food safety research to generate real-world results for both government and the private sector.
  • We are particularly proud of recent work that patented new technology that protects pasteurized liquid eggs, work that looked at the safety of beef trim imports, and efforts that led to the publication of the first draft genomes of six dangerous non-O157 strains of E. coli.
  • Continued collaboration with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) for identification of additional analyses for consideration and implementation in the multi-residue method.