USDA's fresh produce chief will join FDA to help develop new food safety rules as part of a cooperative initiative betweenFDAand theU.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA). Officials say the 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."
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg iterated the agency's commitment to listen and learn from all those with a role in protecting the safety of the food system.
"It is vitally important for us to hear ideas, concerns, and experiences directly from local growers around the country as we develop rules to help protect the safety of fresh produce from the farm to the table," she said. "We will be that much more effective by working closely with farmers, our USDA partners and with state and local food safety agencies."