USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen last week answered a range of questions from Twitter users about food safety.
The Twitter chats, which now take place monthly, began as a USDA effort to improve consumer outreach and participation in USDA programs and services. Each month, they focus on a different USDA department or program. This week, questions ranged from USDA's role in minimizing salmonella virus to improving food safety education.
During the chat, Hagen highlighted new USDA measures for improving public participation in food safety by introducing an online consumer complaint form. The form will allow consumers to instantly alert the USDA of a possible food safety issue.
"Consumers are an important source of the information that FSIS needs to ensure that America's supply of meat, poultry and egg products is safe," Hagen said. "This new tool empowers consumers to report problems directly to FSIS, enhancing our current surveillance of the food supply and our ability to prevent foodborne illness."
Questions and answers from Dr. Hagen's #AskUSDA chat are below and unedited. Hagen has signed many of her responses with "DrH."
Hi - Welcome to our chat, I'm Dr. Hagen, Under Secretary for Food Safety. We make food safety policy for meat, poultry supply & consumer ed
Q1 RT @jureeeee: #askUSDA How often do you work w/vets & what do you recommend for vet students to be involved in food safety?
A1: FSIS is largest employer of vets in the world. We can never do our work w/o veterinarians. There are opps in the field, policy...~DrH
A1 con't: science, even public affairs. One Health teaches us that animal, human & enviro health are all connected. ~DrH #askUSDA
A1 con't: We also have some loan repayment opportunities for vet students, too. ~DrH
Q2 RT @OMBWatch: Do you really believe that 1/3 of a second is enough time to inspect a chicken? @USDA #askUSDA #PoultryRule
A2: Visual inspection doesn't detect pathogens. We've proposed focusing our inspectors on tasks crucial to #foodsafety ~DrH #askUSDA
Q3 RT @RegsRock: Won't the new #PoultryRule raise the likelihood of contaminated poultry going unnoticed? @USDA #askUSDA
A3: No. The data suggest just the opposite. I wouldn't support anything that increased risk for consumers. ~DrH #askUSDA
Q4 RT @NCLR: Would you wait for the results of the NIOSH study on HIMP before implementing it? @USDA #askUSDA
A4: We look fwd to seeing the NOISH study. But remember #foodsafety is our driving force and primary mission. ~DrH #askUSDA
Q5 RT @Chris_B_Leone: @USDA is there a way to test for food borne pathogens at home that is not cost prohibitive? #askUSDA
A5: There's no tech we endorse - but is a great subj for future research. Consumers are always looking for ways to be food safe at home~DrH
Q6 RT @peta: A Consumer Reports' test showed 2/3 of grocery market chickn harbored salmonella &/or campylobacter. What are u doing? #askUSDA
A6: Salmonella & campylobacter reductions are huge priorities for us. (con't) ~DrH #askUSDA
A6 con't: A lot of our strategic plan and every day work aims to reduce these illnesses. ~DrH (read more: http://ow.ly/e2VTh )
Most of what we do is to make good policy so that food is as safe as possible when it reaches consumers' tables. ~DrH #askUSDA
Q7 RT @nmshaw: @USDA isn't it safer to grind your own ground beef at home, then you know it's safe? #askUSDA
A7: All ground beef sold in stores has undergone inspection & various interventions to maximize safety. (con't) ~DrH #askUSDA
A7 con't: Unfortunately you can't do that at home. But you should always use a food thermometer & cook to 160. ~DrH #askUSDA #foodsafety
Q8 RT @jureeeee: @USDA #AskUSDA What is USDA's policy in reducing Salmonella in pet food by controlling the source of outbreak?
A8: We don't reg pet food, but all our policies are aimed at reducing Salmonella in meat & poultry ~DrH (see @FoodSafetyGov for pet food)
A8: For more on pet food safety: http://ow.ly/e2WNy #AskUSDA
Q9 RT @PublicHealth: @USDA What's the best way that consumers can keep up with food recalls? #AskUSDA
A9: There are many types of alerts to subscribe to including recalls. Also follow @FoodSafetyGov ~DrH (Sign up here: http://ow.ly/e2X0V )
Great questions, keep them coming! Remember to tweet us at #askUSDA
Q10 RT @jland360: @USDA Has the cooking temperature for pork been changed? If so what is it now? #AskUSDA
A10: In May 2011 it was lowered to 145 degrees plus three minutes rest time. ~DrH #askUSDA
Q11 RT @crfisher: @USDA Will there be any funds made available to support food safety education outreach at the local level?#askUSDA
A11: We have a lot of #foodsafety resources that can be used at the local level. Here's a toolkit: http://ow.ly/e2Xyv ~DrH #askUSDA
Q12 RT @FoodInsight: Another question..Should all #fruits and #veggies be washed? Why or Why not? #askUSDA
A12: You should always wash fruits & veggies first even if you plan to peel them. http://ow.ly/e2XU4 ~DrH #askUSDA #foodsafety
Q13 RT @HamCoHealth: What can we do in our daily lives 2 make our food safer aside from rinsing produce & using a thermometer ? #askUSDA
A13: 4 simple steps can reduce your risk of food poisoning. Read about them here: http://ow.ly/dZ3fG ~DrH #foodsafety #askUSDA
Q14 RT @voltenvy: @usda - what is the different between what you do for food safety and what FDA does? #askusda
A14: Our legal authority is for meat, poultry and processed eggs. But we work with @US_FDA on the big #foodsafety picture ~DrH #askUSDA
Q15 RT @jureeeee: @USDA #askUSDA Does the USDA provide HACCP training or is that the FDA?
A15: We provide HACCP training to our inspectors. Is that what you mean? ~DrH @askUSDA
Q16 RT @foodandwater: #askUSDA, will you recall beef potentially contaminated w/e.coli from XL in Canada that has entered into US commerce?
A16: The Canadian #foodsafety authority is lead on the recall for XL. We're collaborating on effectiveness checks.. (con't) ~DrH #askUSDA
A16 con't: & will cont to do all we can to protect US consumers. We've issued 3 public health alerts last week (http://ow.ly/e2Z4S ) ~DrH
Q 17 RT @foodandwater: #AskUSDA: @USDA, with salmonella rates so high, deregulating poultry inspection is a good idea?
A17: No deregulation here. This proposal is about doing things better in a more modern way and decreasing Salmonella for consumers ~DrH
Great questions today! See you next time. ~ DrH http://ow.ly/i/YmrB
Great #AskUSDA chat today! Also check out our new form letting consumers alert @USDAFoodSafety of #foodsafety problems http://ow.ly/e343J