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The U.S. Food Safety System Has Come A Long Way in 50 Years

July is the height of summer grilling season and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

By the time this blog posts today, most readers will have already enjoyed at least one meal. Over their breakfast—fresh fruit, a bacon and egg sandwich, or maybe a grab-n-go energy bar—Americans were probably thinking about all the tasks that meal would fuel them to do for the day, and not whether their food could make them ill. But a strong and diligent network of public servants at the federal, state and local levels were thinking about how to protect you from foodborne illness over their breakfasts this morning, and they’re still thinking about it now. Their job day in and day out is to make sure the food on America’s tables—including yours and theirs—is safe to eat. They are the best in the world at what they do, and they’re constantly getting better.

I have proudly been a part of this team since 1978, when I accepted a job with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as an inspector in a Dalhart, Texas beef facility. FSIS is the federal agency charged with ensuring the safety of America’s meat, poultry and processed egg supply, and we work hand in hand with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as state and local departments of health and agriculture. Over the years, I worked my way up from that entry level position in Dalhart, to managing FSIS' Dallas District, to eventually managing the entire agency as Administrator. In my nearly 40-year career, I have seen major changes in the U.S. food safety system.

Food Safety is Everybody's Business

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

USDA’s summer road trip may have come to an end, but many folks are still firing up the grills as summer winds down. With that, consumers still need to be conscious of food safety—from checking temperatures of grilled meat to discarding perishables that have been sitting out too long. A quick U-turn on our road trip explores USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) food safety research program, which addresses complex food safety challenges by developing scientific information and new technologies to control foodborne contaminants.

NIFA Research is Working to Make Every Day World Health Day

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

April 7 is World Health Day and food safety is the primary focus—and with good reason.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that, in the United States alone, every year there are 48 million foodborne illnesses and 3,000 deaths from unsafe food.

Most of these illnesses are the result of bacteria, such as Salmonella, that finds its way into various types of food.  About half of all microbial foodborne illnesses are associated with animal foods, and about half from produce.  CDC reports that most illnesses come from leafy greens, which could be contaminated on the farm, during processing, at retail or in the home. Chemicals, such as mercury in fish or mycotoxins from molds are also a concern.

USDA and the World Health Organization Highlight Food Safety this World Health Day

Everyone involved in the farm to table continuum has an interest in making our food safe to eat.  Because safe food is important to consumers around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) has picked Food Safety as the theme of World Health Day 2015. Today, April 7th, as we observe World Health Day, it is important to take a moment to reflect on what a safe food supply means globally and domestically. WHO estimates that unsafe food causes 2 million deaths each year, with 1,000 of those deaths occurring in the United States.  Here at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), we focus on food safety day in and day out, working around the clock to prevent foodborne illness and protect public health.

In the United States, we are fortunate to have one of the safest food supplies in the world. In the last eight years, the U.S. has seen a decrease in the number of foodborne illnesses with 50,000 fewer reported illnesses since 2007. This decrease is the result of our work to develop innovative ways of educating consumers about safe food handling, our efforts to modernize how we inspect food, and the work we have done with establishments to prevent bacteria from contaminating food. We are committed to using an inspection system based in science—science that derives from the work of researchers and public health experts.  It is important to remember how far we’ve come, but our work is not done.

USDA Releases Strategies to Reduce E. coli Levels at Beef Slaughterhouses

Reduction of E. coli O157 illnesses since the mid-1990’s has been one of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s greatest public health successes, with illnesses having dropped by over 50% since 1998.  While overall illnesses are down significantly, the most recently available outbreak data shows a slight increase in illnesses from this dangerous pathogen.  FSIS’ Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) has released a six-point strategy to turn the trend back in the right direction.

The Strategic Performance Working Group includes professionals from across FSIS, including field personnel, microbiologists, and policymakers who come together periodically to tackle serious and stubborn challenges that limit the Agency’s successful performance of its mission.  The SPWG previously developed the Salmonella Action Plan, which has been the agency’s blueprint for tackling Salmonella since December 2013.  Now the SPWG is also recommending a multipronged approach to address pathogenic E. coli in beef slaughterhouses.

USDA Proposes Tougher Food Safety Standards for Chicken and Turkey

It’s no secret that Americans eat a lot of chicken and turkey. In fact, USDA estimates that a single American will eat 102 pounds of poultry in 2015. It is USDA’s job to ensure the meat and poultry products we enjoy are also safe to eat, and that means adapting federal food safety regulations to meet changes in production technology, scientific understanding of foodborne illness, and consumer demand.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1 million Americans contract foodborne Salmonella poisoning each year, and 200,000 of those illnesses can be attributed to poultry. Today, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed new food safety standards that would reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter, another common cause of foodborne illness, on ground chicken and turkey, as well as chicken legs, breasts and wings, which represent the majority of poultry items that Americans purchase and feed their families.

It's all about the Sides

Main dishes may dominate most holiday tables, but the space on your plate will probably be filled with more sides than whatever holiday meat is served. Proper food handling and cooking will make sure these items come out just as safe and delicious as your main meat.

Making a safe side dish can be even harder than making a main dish safely because side dishes usually contain many ingredients. The more ingredients in the dish the greater the opportunity there is for cross-contamination. By keeping your side dish components separate, you can avoid cross-contamination.

Tis the Season to Avoid Raw Meat

Everyone loves spending time with family and friends enjoying special winter treats, but you might want to think twice before reaching for some traditional dishes. Raw meat dishes like tartare may be more common this time of year, but they still come with health risks.

“Tiger meat” is another traditional winter dish. Despite the name, this dish is not made using meat from tigers. It’s a holiday mixture of raw ground beef, raw eggs, onions and other seasonings served on rye bread or crackers. Beef tartare, tiger meat, and dishes alike have ground beef and eggs that pose a health hazard when eaten undercooked or raw.

Another Step Forward in Food Safety - What You Need to Know About Grinding Logs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is proposing a requirement for official establishments and retail stores that grind raw beef products to keep detailed and in-depth log record systems.

The proposed grinding log rule is now available for public review at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulations/federal-register/proposed-rules.