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Food Safety

Over the past six 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-dimensional 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 additional strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli, prohibiting them like USDA already prohibits E. coli O157:H7. Enforcement to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers began in March 2012.
  • Set tougher standards for Salmonella and new standards for Campylobacter 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 standard for chicken parts, which are more commonly purchased than whole carcasses. USDA estimates these new standards will reduce illnesses by about 50,000 annually.
  • 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 database that will allow 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.
  • Began testing additional components of ground beef, including bench trim, and issued new instructions to our employees requiring that they verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses. We also issued consolidated, more effective field instructions 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.
  • Proposed better record keeping requirements for 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. This year, the three agencies 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.

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: Meals on Wheels, the National Association on Aging and Nutrition, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National PTA, the National Association for Family Child Care, the American Cancer Society, National Council of La Raza, and the League of Latin American Citizens.
  • Proposed to require clearer product labels so consumers will know whether products they are purchasing contain added solutions that might not be apparent. We are also requiring nutrition labels on single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products to provide more information to consumers.
  • Streamlined the process for approving generic labels, which will help product manufacturers get new products on to store shelves more quickly. This efficient new approval process should result in approximately $8.7 million in cost savings over the next 10 years.

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.