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Transcript Of Remarks By Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns To The U.S. Partnership For Food Safety Education

Location: Washington, DC


SECRETARY MIKE JOHANNS: Well, thank you very much, Bryan [Silberman], for that nice introduction. You know ladies and gentlemen, this partnership is really a great example of how the public and the private sectors can work together very effectively for the public good. With this "Be Food Safe" campaign, the Partnership has taken materials that were first developed at the USDA, wrapped them up in a new, outstanding graphics package that makes them simple and easy to remember, and enlisted food retailers to make sure that these safety messages get to consumers right on time. And that is when they are shopping for food and thinking how they might or what they might prepare for dinner, that is also when reminding them of what they can do at home to protect themselves can make the most difference.

Applying the simple rules of "clean, cook, separate and chill" provides a very, very effective layer of protection against pathogens, in addition to all the inspection efforts than government and industry undertake throughout the food supply chain.

The Partnership's own research has shown that while many people today are concerned about the threat of food borne illness, really not enough of them are following basic safety rules on food handling at home where a real difference can be made. It may just be that they need a little reminding until the principles become kind of a second nature in food preparation. And that is what the "Be Food Safe" campaign will deliver.

The battle against pathogens in our food supply is an ongoing battle, and I might add it's a complex battle. When we make progress on one front, it seems like a new pathogen often crops up elsewhere in the food chain. But whatever happens at ports of entry, in processing plants, retail stores, the final line of defense really is in our kitchens, it's at home, and that is where the Partnership is appropriately aiming its efforts.

It is just very encouraging that during the 10 years of the Partnership's existence the roster of its association members has expanded so dramatically and impressively. I think this reflects a broad recognition that everyone involved in this industry has a stake in making sure that our food supply remains abundant, it remains safe, and that American consumers enjoy the highest possible level of protection from food borne illness.

In this public health effort, prevention is clearly a great strategy. I've been giving a great deal of thought to our entire food chain over the last months as a result of my service on the President's Inter Agency Working Group in Import Safety. The President asked this group, as you know - and it's being chaired by a good friend--Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt - the President asked us to look at all of our current practices and regulations regarding import safety and report back to him as to what we thought and what could be done to improve it.

Now the job of keeping on top of import safety has gotten a lot bigger in recent years; it's a gigantic task. Some $2 trillion worth of goods will flow into this country this year, nearly double the volume of just four years ago, and we expect the value of that trade to triple in a few short years, by 2015. Food imports are a growing part of this flow. Consumers are seeking more variety in their diets, more options, are taking advantage of the availability and affordability of imported food products. They have been especially receptive to imported fruits, vegetables that are available outside the standard domestic growing season here in the United States.

When more imports are a part of the food supply, it becomes important to focus on their entire life cycle and not just the condition that they are in when they reach the port. We must make certain that we focus our inspection efforts on those points where risks of contamination are highest and that we use the most effective science available and technology. The Interagency Working Group will be delivering a report to the President later this year on what we believe should be done to ensure greater import safety. I'm confident that we'll be able to take a system that is already a great system, one of the best in the world, but most importantly we want to make it better.

But for everything regulators, manufacturers and retailers can do to make sure that food reaches consumers safe, handling it the right way at home can double or redouble that protection. That is why the most important message I can deliver today is my concluding message, and that is to say to the Partnership, thank you for your efforts. I congratulate you on all you've done not only in the past but all you will do in the future. I congratulate you on the new campaign, and I'll be looking forward to the "Be Food Safe" signs, flyers, and brochures competing for my attention the next time I get behind a grocery cart. And I promise you, I do that.

Thank you very much.


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