Food Safety Working Group progress touted

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON –Federal food-safety agencies were commended today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. The officials recognized the agencies for their progress in supporting President Obama's Food Safety Working Group, which advises him on how to upgrade the U.S. food-safety system for the 21st century.

Chaired by Mr. Vilsack and Ms. Sebelius, the F.S.W.G. 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.

The following are highlights of the progress and accomplishments U.S.D.A. and H.H.S. said they have achieved during the year:

Salmonella in poultry and eggs – U.S.D.A. issued revised draft standards for the presence of Salmonella to reduce consumers' exposure to this pathogen in raw poultry products.

E. coli O157:H7 in beef products – U.S.D.A. 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, H.H.S. published new guidance for clinical laboratories to improve diagnosis and surveillance for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infections.

Campylobacter – U.S.D.A. proposed the first-ever standards for Campylobacter in poultry.

Measuring progress on food safety – H.H.S. and U.S.D.A. are collaborating to address the methodological and data challenges involved in the development of feasible and effective food-safety metrics, with a joint meeting scheduled for July 21 in Chicago.

Reportable Food Registry – H.H.S. 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 – U.S.D.A. and H.H.S. 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 – U.S.D.A. is preparing to launch what it calls a dramatically improved surveillance and data collection and analysis system in the fall.

Improving disease surveillance – H.H.S. 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 – H.H.S. and U.S.D.A. 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, H.H.S. has led more than 15 major multi-state outbreak food-related investigations.

New efforts to strengthen investigation and response – U.S.D.A. and H.H.S. have begun piloting the use of dedicated local or state interview teams to increase the completeness of routine case interviews

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Supporting state and local health agencies – H.H.S. supported eight domestic training courses on epidemiological and laboratory methods related to food safety.

Rapid response to contamination incidents -- Federal agencies are responding more aggressively to reports of contamination in an effort to remove potentially contaminated product from the market before it can cause illness.

New consumer communication technologies – H.H.S. and U.S.D.A. rolled out an enhanced and updated www.foodsafety.gov site in September 2009.

Incident command system -- Federal agencies implemented a new incident command system that links all relevant agencies to address outbreaks of foodborne illness.

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