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Food Safety This Holiday Season

Cross posted from the White House blog:

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us are thinking about the meals we’ll soon be sharing with family and friends.  Whether it’s turkey and egg nog, or latkes, or a New Year’s buffet, food is always a central and cherished part of the festivities. Of course, we all know that a necessary ingredient for any meal is food safety.

When the President came into office, he said that “protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has.” He pledged to strengthen our food safety laws and to enhance the government’s food safety performance.

To help accomplish that goal, the Administration worked with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, and a broad coalition of industry and consumer groups, to enact the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA. FSMA is the most sweeping reform of our food laws in more than 70 years. It will apply modern scientific methods to target and prevent the most significant hazards and hold importers accountable for the safety of the food they bring into this country. FDA is working towards a release of proposed rules to implement FSMA and to build a modern new system of food safety oversight that harnesses the best available practices.

To oversee all of the Administration’s food safety efforts, the President created the Federal Food Safety Working Group, led by our two departments. Partner agencies include the FDA and CDC.

We’re pleased to say that the Working Group’s just released report shows that this Administration has delivered substantial results in the area of food safety. These include stricter standards to prevent contamination of food with dangerous bacteria, stronger surveillance to detect contamination problems earlier, and more rapid response to illness outbreaks.

FSIS announced tougher and new standards to prevent as many as 25,000 illnesses annually from Salmonella and Campylobacter. FSIS will soonprohibit any raw ground beef found to contain six additional types of E. coli bacteria from being sold to consumers, preventing additional illnesses and deaths.

FDA established an egg safety rule that is expected to help prevent 79,000 illnesses and save one billion dollars each year.  And its new “Reportable Food Registry” requires the food industry to file electronic reports about food safety problems. The Registry already led to the recall of products that presented a risk of Salmonella.

CDC, along with frontline state and local disease detectives coordinated the response to over 20 outbreaks across states and tracked more than 200 clusters of suspected foodborne illness. Many illnesses were prevented and lives saved by prompt action taken by Colorado and other states during the recent Listeria outbreak.

These are significant accomplishments, but our joint New Year’s resolution is that you’ll see many more great things in 2012. Among these next steps, the FDA intends to further strengthen food safety prevention efforts. We will take even greater strides on this front when the FDA issues proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

And we all need to do our part to keep food safe. Keep hands and work surfaces clean. Separate raw meats, eggs and seafood from other foods.  Refrigerate any food that should be refrigerated, including pie, within two hours. Don’t use unpasteurized eggs or egg products for any recipe calling for raw eggs, and cook foods to a safe internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat, poultry, and fish achieve a safe internal temperature; turkey and stuffing should both be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make sure food safety is at the top of your holiday list – it’s the best gift you can give those who will gather around your table for the holidays.

Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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