FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 31, 2009
Contact: HHS Press Office (202) 690-6343
USDA Press Office (202) 720-4623
HHS Secretary Sebelius, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announce New Strategies to Keep America’s Food Supply Safe
Departments Take Steps on Leafy Greens, Tomatoes, Melons and Ground Beef
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that prevention and partnership will guide their departments’ efforts to safeguard the food Americans eat every day. Both Secretaries announced new strategies that focus on prevention and depend on working closely with growers, food processors and consumers to achieve their goals.
As a first step, Secretary Sebelius praised three draft guidances prepared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an agency within HHS, aimed at minimizing or eliminating contamination in leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons that can cause foodborne illnesses.
“These proposed controls provide a guide for growers and processors to follow so they may better protect their produce from becoming contaminated,” Secretary Sebelius told a group of growers, consumers, businesses, food safety advocates, and others gathered at the Eastern Market, a public fresh-food market in Washington, D.C. “This strategy represents the kind of positive change promised by President Obama.”
“Making prevention a priority is critical to reducing foodborne illness and one of the three food safety principles of President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group.” said Vilsack. “The actions we are taking today will result in safer food in our country, which means healthier children, longer lives and less costly healthcare.”
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing guidance for inspectors to begin conducting routine sampling of bench trim for E. coli. Bench trim are the pieces left over from steaks and other cuts that are then used to make ground beef. FSIS will also be issuing streamlined, consolidated instructions to its personnel for inspection, sampling and other actions to reduce E. coli O157:H7 in beef. FSIS is also issuing streamlined instructions to its inspectors to provide a simplified procedure to find an eliminate E. coli before it reaches consumers.
Unveiled today, the FDA commodity-specific draft guidances are based on the public health principles embraced by the White House Food Safety Working Group. The Working Group is being led by Secretary Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. FDA’s draft guidances are the first step toward setting enforceable standards for produce safety.
“These new food safety guidelines will facilitate the development of enforceable food safety standards and ensure a safer supply of fresh food for all Americans,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The three draft guidances are designed to help growers and others across the entire supply chain minimize or eliminate contamination in leafy greens, tomatoes, and melons that can cause foodborne illnesses.”
Commissioner Hamburg said the draft guidances represent a shift in strategy for the FDA, from a food safety system that often has been reactive to one that is based on preventing foodborne hazards
“We must set as our highest priority the creating of enforceable standards for food safety that prevent the food Americans eat from ever becoming contaminated,” she told those gathered at the Eastern Market.
Secretary Sebelius said that consumers play a vital role in ensuring the safety of the fresh produce they eat. She offered the following tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Buy wisely. Don’t buy produce that is bruised or damaged. When buying fresh cut produce, choose only items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- Refrigerate promptly. Certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (e.g., strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) should be stored in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40ºF or below. If you aren’t sure whether an item should be refrigerated, ask your grocer. Produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated within two hours.
- Prepare produce with clean hands. Wash hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
- Wash produce thoroughly. Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water. Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush. All unpackaged fruits and vegetables, as well as those packaged and not marked pre-washed, should be thoroughly rinsed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce from a grocery store or farmer’s market.
- Do not cross contaminate. Don’t give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another. Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked such as raw meat, and another one for ready-to-eat foods such as raw fruits and vegetables.
For more information, see FDA Issues Draft Guidances for Tomatoes, Leafy Greens and Melons http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/FruitsVegetablesJuices/FDAProduceSafetyActivities/ucm174086.htm.
To access the key findings and recommendations of the President’s Food Safety Working Group along with more information about its activities, please visit www.foodsafetyworkinggroup.gov.
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Last revised: May 7, 2011