The food landscape in this country is ever changing. And USDA is involved in managing those changes as related to many areas of food processing and food distribution. From the inspection of domestic product, imports, and exports; conducting risk assessments; and educating the public about the importance of food safety, USDA is there.
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) ensures that our nation's meat, poultry and processed egg supply is wholesome, safe and properly labeled. Through prevention-based policies and practices USDA is meeting the foodborne challenges of the 21st century head on and using science to craft the best ways forward.
Protecting Public Health and Preventing Foodborne Illness
USDA continues to protect consumers from the dangers of E. coli contamination by adopting of a zero tolerance policy for six additional strains [E. coli O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145] of the pathogen in raw beef products. Prohibiting them just like to E. coli O157:H7. Enforcement to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers began in March 2012.
USDA expects to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses annually thanks to tougher standards set for Salmonella and new standards for Campylobacter which will reduce the occurrence of these pathogens in poultry.
Implementation of a "test and hold" policy in December 2012 prevents the recall of unsafe foods. Facilities are now required to hold product until microbiological testing can determine it is safe to release meat, poultry and egg products into commerce. This policy will significantly reduce consumer exposure to unsafe meat products. The measure would have prevented 44 recalls of unsafe foods between 2007 and 2009.
USDA continues to enhance the Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database that allows the agency to identify public health trends and food safety violations more effectively at the nearly 6,200 plants where the Food Safety and Inspection Service ensures the wholesomeness of the products produced.
USDA began testing additional components of ground beef, including bench trim, and issued new instructions to employees asking that they verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses. And we issued consolidated, more effective field instructions on how to inspect for E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
Learn how to Report a Problem with Food and what information to have available.
Enhancing Public Education and Outreach
Operation of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone traveling exhibit and the FSIS Web-based virtual representative Ask Karen are key components of USDA's consumer education programs.
The Hotline responded to over 80,000 inquiries (calls, webmail and chats) in fiscal year 2013. Ask Karen views totaled more than 2.35 million. In that time, USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone outreach events in the national capital region exposed approximately 619,539 consumers to food safety messages.
USDA is also a major contributor of consumer food safety content to the website, FoodSafety.gov, the gateway to Federal food safety information.
To further engage consumers about the importance of food safety at home, USDA teamed with the Ad Council to develop the Food Safe Families campaign, a national, multi-media food safety public education campaign to prevent cross-contamination and to ensure proper cooking and chilling. The campaign is developed in English and Spanish. The campaign motivates consumers to take four simple steps--clean, separate, cook and chill--to protect themselves and their families from foodborne illness. Food Safe Families is entering its fourth year and has been seen or heard by more than 1 billion since its June 2011 launch.
Additionally, USDA is requiring clearer product labels so consumers will know whether products they purchase contain added solutions that might not be apparent. USDA also recently began requiring nutrition labels on single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products to provide more information to consumers.
Investing in Innovative Technology, Processes and Tools to Protect Public Health
At USDA, prevention is the anchor, and science is the basis of every food safety decision made. Our scientists in FSIS, Agriculture Research Service (ARS), and in other agencies inform our approach to food safety. Science, data and research are primary tools we use to protect public health.
USDA conducts and funds food safety research to generate real-world results for both government and the private sector. The department is particularly proud of recent work that patented new technology that protects pasteurized liquid eggs, examined 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.
Last year, USDA invested more than $70 million into food safety research, education and extension projects that will help build a modern public health system that meets the evolving needs of the farm-to-fork system.