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USDA Updates Research Priorities For Food Safety

Tue, 12/11/2012 - 12:31pm

WASHINGTON (USDA) — USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has updated its research priorities to keep pace with ever-changing issues and opportunities in food safety and public health related to the meat, poultry and egg products FSIS regulates. Scientific research and resources from outside the agency complement internal efforts to ensure that food safety inspection aligns with existing and emerging risks across the farm-to-table continuum.

"Our goal is to effectively use science to understand foodborne illness and emerging trends," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "External research is critical to our public health mission and ultimately serves as another tool at our disposal to protect the food supply for over 300 million Americans."

The agency's priorities are presented as suggestions for researchers interested in pursuing food safety objectives that are relevant to FSIS regulated products. This list provides useful guidance to researchers that are preparing grants for submission to agencies that fund food safety research, such as USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, scientific academies and private foundations. The list also provides suggestions for academic faculty and students that are looking for relevant food safety research topics. Although FSIS is not a research-funding organization, the list of agency priorities helps promote exploration into those areas.

Examples of current research that supports the agency's priorities include a 5-year, $25 million grant from NIFA, awarded earlier this year, involving 10 universities and 14 lead researchers studying Shiga-toxin producing E. coli. USDA's Agricultural Research Service launched an examination into the identification of factors that enable strains of Salmonella in ground turkey to induce foodborne illness.

FSIS convenes an internal Research Priorities Panel to review the priorities and to identify potential additions to the priorities list. The panel includes representatives from all FSIS disciplines. The panel meets every six months, solicits updates from program areas and stakeholders, and then votes on updates to the priorities list. The recommended updates are vetted through the FSIS Data Coordinating Committee and the Agency's Management Council.

FSIS identified official Agency research priorities for the first time in its history in December 2011. The effort was an outgrowth of the agency's internal discussions and feedback from stakeholders and research organizations. For a complete list of FSIS' research priorities, go to: www.fsis.usda.gov/Science/Food_Safety_Research_Priorities/.

Today's announcements are the latest significant public health measures FSIS has put in place during this Administration to safeguard the food supply, prevent foodborne illness, and improve consumers' knowledge about the food they eat. These initiatives support the three core principles developed by the President's Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention; strengthening surveillance and enforcement; and improving response and recovery. Other actions taken by the USDA include:

  • Zero-tolerance policy for non-O157:H7 STECs. On June 4, 2012, FSIS began routinely testing raw beef manufacturing trim for six strains of non-O157:H7 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) serogroups. Trim found to be contaminated with these pathogens, which can cause severe illness and even death, will not be allowed into commerce and will be subject to recall.
  • Labeling requirements that provide better information to consumers about their food by requiring nutrition information for single-ingredient raw meat and poultry products and ground or chopped products.
  • Public Health Information System, a modernized, comprehensive database with information on public health trends and food safety violations at the nearly 6,100 plants FSIS regulates.
  • Performance standards for poultry establishments for continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens. After two years of enforcing the new standards, FSIS estimates that approximately 5,000 illnesses will be prevented each year under the new Campylobacter standards, and approximately 20,000 illnesses will be prevented under the revised Salmonella standards each year.
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