Mindy Brashears, Ph.D.
Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Bacteria do not read the textbooks. I find myself often repeating this as I remind myself and others to think outside the box when it comes to food safety. Be innovative. Be on the move. Be one step ahead.
I oversee the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the public health regulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). FSIS employs more than 8,600 people that ensure the meat, poultry and egg products that consumers eat are safe, wholesome and accurately labelled. Having spent my entire career as a microbiologist and food safety researcher, I am proud to say without doubt that FSIS is a science-based agency and data drives the policy decisions to ensure food safety – an absolute necessity in order to stay ahead of, and prevent, foodborne illnesses.
I feel the weight of my responsibility to protect the health of the American people every day in my job, and I have an intense focus on finding and implementing solutions to prevent foodborne illness to save lives. In order to achieve this goal, USDA stands on a foundation of research and science. An agency cannot build policies on anecdotes or “cherry-picked” data that drives agendas and has no hope in improving food safety; instead, as we enter a new decade, USDA is executing a food safety vision that will focus on three critical focus areas:
- Lead with science
- Build relationships
- Influence behavior changes
Science will remain the foundation but food safety is only successful as a group effort if the agency and stakeholders build strong relationships to impart behavior changes in critical areas. I see the agency as a hub that brings regulators, stakeholders and public health partners together across the globe. We will encourage innovation and research to address data gaps and establish pathways for industry to test and adopt new technologies. Science will continue to lead our food safety efforts as FSIS works to develop new policies including modernized inspection systems and pathogen performance standards. The innovations of today will be the logical solutions of tomorrow. Innovation is not limited to the industry but rather spans to the consumer. We will utilize consumer research to inform modernized food safety messaging and identify risky consumer behaviors.
Foodborne illness is a serious threat to the United States of America. We can’t afford to jeopardize our food supply by working in a siloed approach. It’s imperative to seize the opportunity to build relationships and clear lines of communication with Congress, Universities, stakeholders, consumers and the industry. It is my hope that our innovation and relationships will work together to influence behavior changes and put knowledge into action.
I will work closely with the FSIS leaders as we lead with science, build relationships and influence behavior changes for the good of the American public, and anyone across the world who eats meat, poultry and processed egg products in America. The bold decisions that will come from this effort will ultimately prevent foodborne illness and further strengthen the nation’s food supply.