- Launching an initiative to cut down E. coli O157:H7 contamination including stepped-up meat facility inspections by starting the testing of additional components of ground beef, and issuing new instructions to inspectors asking that they verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses.
- Appointing a chief medical officer within USDA's FSIS to coordinate human health issues within USDA and FSIS and build bridges with the public health community and senior leaders throughout the federal, state and local sectors to establish a consistent approach and heighten food safety awareness.
- Issuing consolidated, more effective field instructions on how to inspect for E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
- Continuing to develop the Public Health Information System (PHIS) to help the agency more rapidly and accurately identify trends, patterns and anomalies in data and thus allow us to more efficiently, effectively and rapidly protect public health.
By revising current performance standards and setting new ones, FSIS is encouraging establishments to make continued improvement in the occurrence and level of pathogens in the products they produce. FSIS developed the stricter performance standards using recently completed studies that measure the baseline prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chicken (broiler) and turkey carcasses nationwide.
These standards could have a greater impact on consumers than any food safety measure since 1996. Chicken and turkey will be safer once they are implemented, especially if retailers avoid companies that are named by USDA as needing improvement. Unfortunately, USDA still lacks authority to enforce these standards by closing failing plants — an authority stripped away in 2001 by a federal court in Supreme Beef Inc. vs. USDA. For consumers to fully realize the benefits of the improved standards, Congress should reinstate USDA's authority to enforce its performance standards.