Speeches: Remarks prepared for Jerold Mande, December 9, 2009 Page 1 of 3
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Remarks prepared for delivery by Jerold Mande, deputy under Presentations
Information For... secretary for food safety, at the joint FDA-FSIS public meeting Communications to
on product tracing, December 9, 2009, Washington, DC. Congress
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Good morning and thank you for coming to this important
public meeting that will help seek solutions to one of our most Image Libraries
pressing challenges today in food safety: product tracing.
With the formation of the President's Food Safety Working
Group in March, improving product tracing has become a
priority for the Obama Administration.
Today's gathering is significant not only because this meeting is
a vital forum for our stakeholders and the public, but also
because it will advance a significant joint effort with one of our
closest partners in food safety, the Food and Drug
Administration, as we work together to strengthen our nation's
food safety system.
We are glad to have with us today so many representatives
from our private, non-profit, and public partners here helping
us create a more effective traceback system.
The Food Safety Working Group's goal regarding product
tracing and the charge for this forum is clear:
Outbreaks of foodborne illness should be prevented; however,
when they do occur, they must be identified quickly and
The Food Safety Working Group recommends the development
of a food tracing system that shortens the time from outbreak
detection to resolution and recovery. In a successful food safety
system, outbreaks are rare, limited in scale, and short in
Tracing contamination to its source quickly and decisively saves
lives because it helps us identify the products that are making
people sick. If a traceback investigation succeeds in
determining the source of contaminated product, we can also
trace contaminated product forward throughout the distribution
chain and send the appropriate warnings.
For these two days we'll be discussing our product tracing
systems, identifying improvements, working together to spot
gaps, and then finding solutions to increase the speed and
accuracy of product tracing.
This problem, unfortunately, is difficult.
The CDC estimates that as many as 300,000 people in the U.S.
are hospitalized each year from foodborne illnesses and millions
become ill and don't even realize that it is connected to tainted
Speeches: Remarks prepared for Jerold Mande, December 9, 2009 Page 2 of 3
While this forum will begin with product tracing as a
comprehensive task that will require cooperation and
commitment from both business and government to get the job
done, one area that you'll be hearing a lot about is gaps at the
Despite the dedicated efforts of food safety officials across the
country, our capacity to trace tainted products is seriously
limited. Poor record keeping and inadequate information about
food sources, ingredients or distribution—particularly at the
retail level—make tracing a cumbersome process and make
recalls less effective.
With an effective tracing system, when an outbreak occurred—
involving ground beef for example—the product that caused the
outbreak would be quickly identified as would the retail stores
where consumers purchased the product. The store would have
the appropriate records that show which processing
establishment produced the beef used in the ground product.
And then, we could perform traceback and traceforward
By doing so, we could make consumers aware of what
contaminated product to avoid or discard, and therefore control
the outbreak. At the same time, our assessment of the
establishment that produced the contaminated product could
detect if there's a larger problem at the plant and whether this
is a systemic problem and not just a local issue.
However, today, we often don't have all the information we
need to protect public health. For example, in 2008, during an
E. coli O157:H7 illness investigation in Kentucky, FSIS and our
state partners found a retail firm to be a common source of
ground beef eaten by those who got sick.
The retailer acknowledged it produced several beef grinds, but
didn't maintain grinding logs. The retailer used possibly six to
nine sources of meat in producing the grinds.
As a result, FSIS was unable to trace the products back to the
source. If we had been able to identify the source or sources,
we could have determined if other contaminated meat
remained in commerce.
Doing so would have prevented other consumers from getting
sick, enabled us to determine whether plants were still
producing contaminated product, and allowed us to verify if
corrective actions were working.
Clearly, reform is needed at the retail level where in many
cases the traceback trail ends, but where it really should begin.
Many retailers don't keep records, or the records that they do
keep are inadequate. Many retailers are small businesses with
small staffs, so it is easy to understand why record keeping
isn't a high priority. For some it could even be considered a
So there clearly are challenges before us.
It should be said, however, that many retailers do a good job in
maintaining records and consider it an important part of doing
business. Safeway, for example, has made improvements in its
grinding records after experiencing a number of recalls.
What's needed is basic documentation: the time and date the
product is ground; exact product name and quantity;
production codes; sell-by and use-by dates, for example.
Technology should make this task easier as well as numerous
traceback models in the world that we can study.
Speeches: Remarks prepared for Jerold Mande, December 9, 2009 Page 3 of 3
And retail is just one point in the entire system where
traceback needs to be improved. Each day, FSIS and industry
tests products for microbial contamination. Efforts to determine
the source of positive product that an establishment produces
need to be robust to prevent contaminated product from
The challenge doesn't end at our nation's borders. Nearly 3.3
billion pounds of meat and poultry are imported into the United
States each year.
Trade in food is critical to our diet and permits our farmers and
other food producers to sell their goods abroad. Foodborne
illness, however, does not respect national borders so we need
to be looking toward a seamless tracing system that reaches
throughout the nation and the world.
This is no small task and will require that everyone in the food
business must do their part and make traceability a priority.
The good news is this forum brings together key parties with an
interest in providing safe food. Let's use the power we all have
to unite and make this nation a model for product tracing.
Again, thank you all for being here. I look forward to your input
and your ideas. Let's make the time you're investing in this
forum productive and worthwhile.
Last Modified: December 9, 2009
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