Does the USDA undersecretary for food safety actually do anything? Does fililng that job mean less people will barf?

Do people really expect government to magically make food safe?

Government sets expectations and minimal standards, that’s why tax dollars are spent, but the whining about a lack of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety has taken on histrionic tones.

Given the ridiculous size of the U.S. budget deficit, and I don’t wanna go all Ross Perot here, but the salary savings from not filling the post have to at least be considered.

Elizabeth Weise writes in today’s USA Today that calls from consumer advocates and politicians are growing louder for the Obama administration to name an undersecretary for food safety at the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, a position unfilled for more than a year.

What kind of calls? Writing uninformed blog posts is hardly a call. And who are these consumer advocates? How is that defined?

Weise writes  that some consumer advocates say some fights only an undersecretary-level appointee can undertake include:

•Getting needle-tenderized meat, which can push E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella deep into steaks and chops where cooking doesn’t easily kill it, labeled so consumers know it shouldn’t be eaten rare. A current outbreak linked to this type of meat has sickened 21 people.

•Giving the USDA the right to name not just grocery stores that have sold recalled meat, but also restaurants.

•Using live video to monitor animals in pens, allowing short-staffed inspectors to do more.

Any retail chain concerned about consumers could institute any of those changes today. The best should do so without nagging from the nanny state.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time