Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke Wednesday at the annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection about the USDA's ongoing efforts to safeguard American consumers from foodborne illnesses. Recent actions taken by USDA to strengthen industry safeguards are aimed at improving the safety of the food Americans serve their families.
"With more than 330 billion meals served to Americans each year, the scale of the challenge to ensure safe food is enormous, but ensuring the safety of our food is USDA's top priority," said Vilsack. "Today, USDA and our federal partners are collaborating more than ever before to improve and modernize the food safety system based on prevention. It is our duty to make sure that producers provide safe food, that consumers and others have the tools necessary to get safe food to their families, and that we're supporting the research and education needed to ensure advancements in the safety of our food."
Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, is a serious public health threat in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that approximately 1 in 6 Americans, 48 million people, suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually.
During his first 100 days in office, President Obama created the Food Safety Working Group, which developed three core principles to help guide food safety in the United States: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response and recovery. Since that time, USDA has announced a variety of new measures to safeguard the public from foodborne illnesses.
In addition, in late June, USDA joined the Ad Council, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to debut Food Safe Families, the first joint public service campaign to help families prevent foodborne illnesses in the home. This campaign reminds Americans to clean kitchen surfaces, utensils and hands while preparing food; separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards; cook foods to the correct temperatures; and, chill raw and prepared foods promptly.
During his remarks in Milwaukee, Vilsack stressed the cooperation between government, industry and consumers to ensure the safety of our food, "No one entity can do it alone," said Vilsack. "Safe food takes committed researchers and scientists, producers, food processors and retailers. Government, of course, is an important part of the partnership. When food is safe we all win. Americans can feed themselves, their families and others with the confidence that food won't make them sick."