Remarks prepared for delivery by Jerold Mande, deputy under secretary for food safety, at the joint FDA-FSIS public meeting on product tracing, December 9, 2009, Washington, DC.
Good morning and thank you for coming to this important public meeting that will help seek solutions to one of our most 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 stopped.
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 duration.
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 food.
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 retail level.