USDA Food Safety Expert Outlines Plan

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will focus on “science-based food safety” as well as laws, regulations, and policies that are anchored in prevention, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, MD, said in a speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 9.


“[The] USDA, FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], and other agencies have an opportunity right now to make this food safety system the kind of 21st century system we want it to be. To do that, public health has to be at the heart of our legislative authorities, our regulations, and every administrative action that we take,” said Dr. Hagen.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will stress results as it oversees the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products, which comprise 20 percent of the American food supply, according to the USDA. Dr. Hagen explained that new tools don’t necessarily mean an onslaught of new regulations and paperwork, but, rather, sensible improvements to the food production and consumption system, as the USDA gets the tools it needs to do its job well and uses the tools it has more effectively.

“For example, the Hazard Analysis/Critical Control Points, or HACCP, approach has been the foundation of USDA inspection since 1996. Sound, solid principles and approach to protecting the food supply. What we’re asking now is, can it be improved given all the lessons we’ve learned, industry and regulators, in the past fifteen years?” Dr. Hagen said.

Diane Ducharme, GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) program Coordinator and extension associate in horticulture and food safety at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, praised Dr. Hagen’s priorities. “Identifying and reducing preventable risks in our food supply by providing traceability of product and education is a commendable approach to begin peeling this ‘onion’ of complexity that our food system now represents,” she said.

Clear guidance and consistency of message will be key to implementing those priorities, she added. “Education needs to be directed at each of the pre and post production points along the food supply chain to most effectively address prevention comprehensively from farm to fork, not just with consumer-based programs. As we are finding out, experts (and non-scientific experts) are not always in agreement on the methods to use for prevention or the performance standards,” she said.

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