USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has issued a statement on the New York Times article aboutE. colicontamination in ground beef. The article covered the illness of one person who was left paralyzed from the waist down as a result of eating tainted ground beef, and the ways that the food safety system did not work in her case.

The statement reads:
"The story we learned about over the weekend is unacceptable and tragic. We all know we can and should do more to protect the safety of the American people and the story in this weekend's paper will continue to spur our efforts to reduce the incidence of E. coli O157:H7. Over the last eight months since President Obama took office, USDA has been aggressive in its efforts to improve food safety, and has been an active partner in establishing and contributing to President Obama's Food Safety Working Group.

"Protecting public health is the sole mission of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS has continued to make improvements to reduce the presence of E. coli O157:H7 and the agency is committed to working to reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses caused by this pathogen.

"Shortly after coming into office, the Administration created a high-level Food Safety Working Group to coordinate food safety policies, focus greater resources on prevention, and improve response to outbreaks. Since doing so, we have taken the following actions:

 * Launched an initiative to cut down E. coli contamination (including in particular contamination from E. coli O157:H7) and as part of that initiative, stepped-up meat facility inspections involving greater use of sampling to monitor the products going into ground beef.

* Appointed a chief medical officer within USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service to reaffirm its role as a public health agency.

* Issued draft guidelines for industry to further reduce the risk of O157 contamination.
* Started testing additional components of ground beef, including bench trim, and issuing new instructions to our employees asking that they verify that plants follow sanitary practices in processing beef carcasses.

* Designed the Public Health Information System (PHIS) in response to lessons learned in past outbreaks.

"USDA is also looking at ways to enhance traceback methods and will initiate a rulemaking in the near future to require all grinders, including establishments and retail stores, to keep accurate records of the sources of each lot of ground beef.

"No priority is greater to me than food safety and I am firmly committed to taking the steps necessary to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness and protect the American people from preventable illnesses. We will continue to make improvements to reduce the presence of E. coli 0157:H7."

Source: USDA

Pilgrim's Pride Alabama plant to shut down this week

The Pilgrim's Pride facility in Athens, Ala., has been in operation for six decades, but it is being closed this week and putting more than 600 people out of work. The company purchased the facility in 2003. Originally, it was run by Sweet Sue Poultry before being sold to Beatrice Foods and then ConAgra Foods.
Pilgrim's had announced in July that it would be closing the plant, as part of its reorganization from bankruptcy. It will stop processing live chickens today, reducing the workforce to 40, and the plant will remain open through the end of the week.

According to AP reports, the plant was Athens' largest sewer and water customer and spent more than $4 million annually. The loss of the $25 million payroll will affect the Athens City Schools as well.

"The impact will be felt everywhere. I have friends that work there, and they are concerned," David Seibert, chairman of the Limestone County Commission, told The Decatur Daily. "Some accepted transfers, but many are searching for work."

Source: Associated Press, The Decatur Daily

USDA to help FDA develop new food safety regulations

USDA's fresh produce chief will join FDA to help develop new food safety rules as part of a cooperative initiative between FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Today's announcement comes amid beefed up outreach efforts with key agriculture and safe food stakeholders to better share and exchange produce safety "best practices" and ideas.

Leanne Skelton, chief of the Fresh Products Branch of the USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS), has extensive experience working with the fruit and vegetable industry. Skelton has been with the Fresh Products Branch at AMS for more than 22 years, working in inspections, grading and certification, standardization, training, and managing the Branch's financial and information technology activities. Skelton will be on detail with the FDA for six months as she helps the FDA develop new safety regulations for produce.

"President Obama, like most Americans, wants immediate improvements in our food safety system," said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "As such, we are pulling together all our best resources -- state and federal -- to improve the safety of our foods and to work with growers protect and promote the health of our nation."

"USDA is committed to working with our partners to ensure that Americans have access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Today's announcement is another example of the Obama Administration's innovative and aggressive effort to strengthen protections against unsafe food and food-borne illness."

Through the initiative, FDA is gathering information and seeking feedback from the fresh produce industry, including small and organic farmers, on the impact such rules may have on their businesses and lives. In addition, USDA and FDA officials have been traveling together to meet with farmers and local food safety officials. Most recently, FDA and USDA visited farms in North Carolina and will soon visit Florida.
"We are delighted that the FDA sought USDA's counsel and cooperation as they tackle the challenges of ensuring the safety and availability of fresh produce and healthy foods," said AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg. "The USDA and the FDA have joined together on listening sessions and farm tours, and are eager to develop a system of regulation that will work for American families and the growers."

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Church's hires CMO

Church’s Chicken has hired veteran restaurant executive Anthony M. Lavely as its new chief marketing officer, in full charge of marketing activities in the and menu and product development.

Lavely recently was CMO for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Prior, he was CMO for Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, and Long John Silver’s.

“Tony brings a wide and deep knowledge of the quick service restaurant business at a time when it is more important than ever to support and expand the Church’s brand,” said Harsha V. Agadi, CEO of Church’s Chicken, in a statement.

Atlanta-based Church’s Chicken has more than 1,650 locations in 22 countries, with system sales approaching $1.2 billion.

Source: Atlanta Business Journal