A White House Food Safety Working Group Listening Session was held Wednesday that marked "the beginning of a significant and critical process that will fully review the safety of our nation’s food supply," according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In his opening remarks, Vislack outlined several specific challenges that would require imput from the stakeholders present at the session. These included the development of an approach consistent between the FDA and USDA for preventing foodborne illnesses, as well as an active surveillance and response system for foodborne disease outbreaks.
In regards to the latter, Vislack stated, "Our regulatory agencies must actively watch for disease outbreaks and take rapid action to ensure that we have effective and targeted recalls. Such recalls are in the interests of public health and the strength of industry sectors that might otherwise be tarnished by massive recalls."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversees the FDA and the CDC, also briefly mentioned the subject of foodborne outbreaks in her opening remarks, saying, "When outbreaks do occur, we must all respond quickly, both to protect public health and to speed the recovery of affected industries."
Sebelius went on to say, “We have already made good use of new tools to protect and inform the public. When peanut products were recalled, we produced a widget that was placed on more than 20,000 external Web sites and resulted in 9.6 million page views. And as we saw during the H1N1 flu outbreak, communication is critical during any kind of crisis and we will use every tool possible to get the word out."
However, she failed to mention how effective that tool was in protecting public health and speeding the recovery of the peanut industry.
As Vislack stated at the end of his opening remarks, "[W]e need to develop a way to measure our success… Lives are at stake and good is simply not good enough."