Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in a live chat on July 7 following Vice President Biden’s announcement about key findings of the Food Safety Working Group. Source: Whitehouse Blog.

Vice President Biden was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to report the key findings of the Food Safety Working Group (FSWG), which was created by President Obama in March. FSWG has recommended a new, public health-focused approach to food safety based on three core principles: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcing and improving response and recovery.

FSWG listed specific steps designed to advance its core principles:

  • HHS and USDA are targeting salmonella contamination by developing tougher standards to protect the safety of eggs, poultry and turkey.

  • To fight the threat of E. coli, USDA is stepping up enforcement in beef facilities and FDA is developing new industry guidance improving protections for leafy greens, melons and tomatoes.

  • The Obama administration is building a new national traceback system including clearer industry guidance, a new unified incident command system and improved use of technology (enhancing to deliver individual food safety alerts to consumers.

  • Finally, the administration announced a plan to strengthen the organization of federal food safety functions, including the creation of new positions at key food safety agencies.

    In addition to the components named in the national traceback system, FSWG also wants to strengthen the public health epidemiology program, update emergency operations procedures and improve capacity at the state level.

    FSWG is chaired by Secretaries Sebelius and Vilsack, and participating agencies include FDA, FSIS, CDC, Department of Homeland Security, EPA and several offices of the White House.

    While this is a step in the right direction for food safety, is it enough? Center for Food Safety Policy Analyst Jaydee Hanson says it isn’t. “The Center recommends that food safety warrants its own agency within the government,” contends Hanson. “Recent recalls of foods including peanuts, pistachios, cookie dough and beef are all incidences that call for action.”

    According to Hanson, President Obama has assembled a great team-including Michael Taylor, who is expected to be the new FDA Commissioner of Food. Luckily, they work well together, but the US public cannot rely on luck when it comes to food safety, Hanson says.