In March 2009 the Food Safety Working Group was created under the leadership of USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Other partners include the Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety and Inspection Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented a report Wednesday on the activities and progress of the working group during the past two years.
During a conference call with media, Sebelius spoke about the importance of collaboration with other agencies in this time of scarce resources and how that can make the most progress.
"Today that progress is clear," Sebelius said. "We are well on our way to building a modern food safety system. Every year millions of people in the United States still suffer from foodborne illnesses; hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands of people die."
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 6 Americans suffers from foodborne illness annually and that 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die each year as a result.
"As our food system has evolved our methods for monitoring it stayed stagnant," Sebelius said. "The problem was that we were monitoring a 21st Century food system with 20th Century tools, rules and resources. That isn't the case any longer."
Sebelius says the report shows significant progress toward the three goals of the Food Safety Working Group: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response and recovery.
Vilsack says that while a lot of work has been done, there remains much to do and he is hopeful as they work in concert to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act that was signed by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011.
"The work is not done, which is why the Food Safety Working Group plans to continue its efforts over the course of the next year to improve food safety by continued collaboration," Vilsack said. "We are very pleased with the progress that we've made, we're proud of the work that has been done and we think we can assure folks that we are committed to making the food supply safer each and every day."
The Food Safety Working Group report can be viewed by clicking HERE. To listen to Sebelius and Vilsack's remarks concerning the report and progress of the Food Safety Working Group use the audio player on this page.