December 26, 2012

Another View: Federal food safety agency made steady progress in 2012

While new rules on record-keeping are still in process, other protections are on the books.

By Philip Derfler

We appreciate the Press Herald's interest in food safety but must correct the record ("Our View: USDA acting too slowly to fix food safety rules," Dec. 20).

In regards to last year's salmonella outbreak, you stated, "A year later, American consumers are no safer from food-borne illness." This statement is inaccurate and mischaracterizes the work that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has done on behalf of consumers.

As a public health agency, our new rules go through a rigorous process to ensure that we are using the latest science and data to respond to existing and emerging threats. We are continually enhancing this process to make sure families in Maine and beyond have access to the safest meat, poultry and processed egg products.

In working with the Press Herald's reporter, we clearly explained that the record-keeping proposal at issue is working its way through the internal review process.

The USDA has issued numerous public health measures to keep consumers safe from food-borne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter.

Issues that were at the forefront of the recall last year -- food-borne illness prevention, tracking and salmonella -- have all been the focus of the FSIS' work this year as we have prioritized prevention. We had a busy year and put in place many new safeguards to protect American families. In a historic step, the USDA adopted a zero-tolerance policy for six additional strains of E. coli to protect consumers. We also implemented stricter salmonella and new campylobacter performance standards, expected to prevent as many as 25,000 food-borne illnesses annually. Additionally, we put in place a rule that requires companies to hold shipments of products until they pass agency testing for food-borne pathogens.

We have accomplished a great deal this year but still have more work ahead of us. In 2013 and beyond, we will remain committed to further protecting consumers from food-borne illnesses.

Philip Derfler is deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.


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