Eskin: Salmonella the top priority
Sandra Eskin, the Agriculture deputy undersecretary for food safety and the top food safety official at USDA since President Biden has not nominated an undersecretary, said today, Oct. 6, that reducing infections from salmonella is her top priority.
In a virtual speech to the Consumer Federation National Food Policy Conference, Eskin said the incidence of illness from salmonella, which the Centers for Disease Control says causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year, has not decreased since 2000, and it is time to change policy.
Eskin said that, although the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service does not have jurisdiction over farms, controlling salmonella must take into consideration “the entire food production system, including the farm.” Eggs and poultry are the most common sources of salmonella, and one point of consideration is “when the birds are presented for slaughter,” she said.
“We are looking for a comprehensive policy to bring down infections. Pre-harvest will be a big part of it,” she said. Irradiation has not been discussed, Eskin said, but added she is sure there are people who support its use.
The goal at present is a 20% reduction in salmonella infections, which can enter the bloodstream and affect tissues throughout the body. So far, she said, USDA has focused on updating guidelines for raw products.
Eskin promised she would listen to all stakeholders, including research scientists and risk assessors.
A lawyer who was previously the project director for food safety at The Pew Charitable Trusts, Eskin said she is guided by a philosophy that government should protect people from harm that they cannot control themselves, and that includes protecting people from bacteria.
Eskin noted that her job comes with “a nice big office” in the USDA headquarters building in Washington and a parking space, but she has not yet used either.
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