Or, what I would do if I changed jobs?
The position, although still unfilled, of Undersecretary for Food Safety plainly exists for a reason. Its sole mission should be food safety and public safety. The Undersecretary for food safety should, and needs to, be the responsible person within the FSIS on this important issue, advocating and making decisions solely on behalf of public health.
If, or when, the President appoints an Undersecretary here are some of the things they should do:
1. Have the FSIS update and finalize the E. coli O157:H7 Risk Assessment that it started about ten years ago, including especially an in depth look at cross-contamination (thus changing the agency’s operating assumption that somehow cooking alone solves all problems).
2. Develop uniform cooking and handling instructions that actually provide helpful guidance (in contrast, for example, of the suggestions to “cook thoroughly”), while also requiring that alternate or additional handling and cooking instructions on packages must be supported by tests and other evidence before being approved for use on the package.
2. Enforce a real zero-tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 EHEC.
3. Do meaningful sampling and surveillance of meat to determine real prevalence of all pathogens.
4. All Non-compliance Report (NR’s) and other enforcement documents at slaughter plants and grinding operations would go online in real-time (like restaurant health inspections are).
5. You should be able to go online, enter a USDA establishment number, and see not only all NR’s but testing results too.
6. Create new quality certifications to aid consumers in making choices, and allow companies to capture price premiums for higher quality.
7. Support small and medium sized agriculture by growing local and regional markets for produce and meat.
8. Improve surveillance of bacterial and viral diseases. First responders – ER physicians and local doctors – need to be encouraged to test for pathogens and report findings directly to local and state health departments and the CDC promptly.
9. Increase food inspections. While domestic production has continued to be a problem, imports pose an increasing risk, especially if terrorists were to get into the act. Points of export and entry are a logical place to step up monitoring. We need more inspectors – domestically and abroad.
10. We need to use our technology to make food more traceable so that when an outbreak occurs authorities can quickly identify the source and limit the spread of the contamination and stop the disruption to the economy.
Sure, there are more things (advice and comments requested), but this would give us a hell of a start.