Press Release

Gillibrand Unveils Comprehensive Food Safety Improvement Plan

Oct 14, 2009


U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the first New York senator to sit on the
Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, today announced a
comprehensive plan to overhaul the nation’s food safety laws by improving
inspection, recall response, and public education.  A cornerstone of
Senator Gillibrand’s plan is new legislation to mandate E. coli inspections of
ground beef.

WATCH Senator Gillibrand discuss her plan to improve food safety.

to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year an
estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, 371,000 are
hospitalized with food-borne illness, and 5,700 die from food-related disease. 
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made some progress
improving food safety regulations, the nation’s food safety laws have not been
significantly overhauled in more than a century, according to the Congressional
Research Service.

“In America, in 2009, it is unconscionable that food is still going straight to
our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested
to ensure its safety,” Senator Gillibrand said. “It’s spreading too many
diseases and costing too many lives. We need to do a better job of catching
contaminated food before it ever comes close to a kitchen table. My plan
addresses the gaps in the inspection process and improves recalls and public
education, so parents have access to the information to keep their families

Across New York State, approximately 5
million people are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year.

READ Senator Gillibrand’s new report on food safety.

  • In New York City, an estimate of nearly 2.1 million
    are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In Western New York, an estimate of nearly 360,000
    are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, an estimate of
    over 310,000 are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In Central New York, an estimate of over 250,000 are
    afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In the Southern Tier, an estimate of nearly 170,000
    are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In the Capital Region, an estimate of over 280,000
    are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In the North Country, an estimate of nearly 125,000
    are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • In the Hudson Valley, an estimate of an estimate of
    over 570,000 are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year;
  • On Long Island, an estimate of over 715,000 are
    afflicted with a food-borne illness each year.

Salmonella is the most common food-borne
illness – causing over 1 million illnesses each year in the U.S., according to
the CDC. Another 70,000 in America fall victim to E. coli each year. From meat
and poultry to peanut butter, fruits and vegetables, almost every type of food
we eat each day has the potential for contamination because of outdated,
insufficient safeguards and testing processes.

Responsibility for enforcing America’s
food safety measures is shared by 15 federal agencies – with the FDA and USDA
responsible for the bulk of the oversight.  However, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) is often limited to reactive regulations once outbreaks
have already begun instead of preventing contaminations from spreading, and
risking the safety of our food and the health of millions.

Senator Gillibrand’s plan to improve food safety will streamline and strengthen
regulations at the USDA and FDA.  Senator Gillibrand’s efforts will also
alter the fundamental approach to food safety by focusing on prevention to
catch food-borne illnesses, and more quickly preventing further illness when an
outbreak is detected.


Improve Testing of Ground Beef
During a 2009 industry-wide sampling of all ground beef produced, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
found that nearly 1 in every 300 samples of ground beef was contaminated with
E. coli.  Ground beef is especially vulnerable to E. coli because its
source material is not from a single cut of meat, rather, from a compilation of
trimmings from many parts, including fat that lies near the surface of possibly
contaminated hide. While some grinders that process ground beef voluntarily
test the meat before and after grinding, there is currently no federal requirement
for grinders to test their ingredients for E. coli.

To reduce the risk of E. coli ending up in the hamburgers and other food we
eat, Senator Gillibrand is authoring the E. Coli Eradication Act – new
legislation that would require all plants that process ground beef to test
their products regularly before it is ground and again before it is combined
with other beef or ingredients, such as spices, and packaged. If ground beef is
found to be contaminated, the bill requires the company to properly dispose of
the contaminated batch, or cook the meat to a temperature that destroys the E.
coli.  Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will include appropriate penalties
for companies that fail to implement testing mechanisms at their

Regulation of All Other Food

beef isn’t the only food infecting people with E. coli and salmonella. Fruits
and vegetables can also be contaminated. Senator Gillibrand is co-sponsoring
the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act – legislation authored by Senator
Dick Durbin (D-IL) that would make comprehensive improvements to the safety of
fruits and vegetables, and help prevent outbreaks before they start.

  • Focus on Prevention, requiring all
    facilities to establish preventive plans to address hazards upfront, prevent
    adulteration, and give the FDA access to all of these plans and procedures.
  • Expand Access to Records, giving the FDA
    access to the records of all food processing facilities.
  • Establish Oversight of High Quality Testing
    by granting the FDA authority to check the credibility of the laboratories
    testing the safety of food, requiring the labs to report all of their findings
    to the FDA, and certify that foreign food facilities comply with U.S. food
    safety standards.
  • Improve Detection, by increasing
    inspections at all food facilities, including annual inspections of high-risk
    facilities, and inspections of all facilities once every four years; enhancing
    food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis,
    reporting, and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses; and creating a pilot
    project to test and evaluate new methods to quickly and accurately track and
    trace fruits and vegetables in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.
  • Enhance U.S. Food Defense Capabilities by helping food
    companies protect their products from intentional contamination, and commence a
    national strategy to protect our food supply from terrorist threats, and
    rapidly respond to food emergencies.
  • Increase FDA Resources, increasing
    federal investments to give the FDA all the resources it needs to implement
    comprehensive food safety improvements.

Safety of Imported Food
15 percent of America’s overall food supply is imported from overseas,
including 60 percent of fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood.
imports $5.2 billion worth of food from China alone – including 10 percent of
our shrimp. In 2007, the FDA issued important alerts for five kinds of
farm-raised fish and shrimp from China due to unsafe additives, inadequate
labeling and poor manufacturer registrations, as well as potentially harmful
veterinary drug residues in farm-raised fish and shrimp.

To ensure the safety of food we import matches the standards of food grown and
processed in America, Senator Gillibrand is calling on the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the hiring of inspectors to protect
consumers from contaminated imported food.

2003, when the DHS took over the inspection of agricultural products on the
border, the position of “agriculture specialists” was created.  While the
number of people in this position has been slowly increasing, we are still
one-third short of the number of specialists needed to test the ever increasing
array of agricultural products coming into the country.

overall agricultural inspection rate for cargo has declined from nearly 70
percent in 2001 to about 40 percent in 2008 and down to 13 percent for
passenger inspections.  Better inspections will not only protect humans
from pathogens, but will protect American farms from agricultural pests and

Additionally, Senator Gillibrand will work to require importers to verify the
safety of foreign suppliers and imported food by allowing the FDA to require
certification for high-risk foods, and deny entry to a food that lacks
certification, or that is from a foreign facility that has refused U.S.


Contaminated Food in School Lunches
Last month, in response to a Government
Accountability Office (GAO) report that revealed federal agencies are
not adequately alerting schools about recalls, Senator Gillibrand introduced
the Safe Food for Schools Act – legislation that would protect the 31
million schoolchildren who participate in the National School Lunch and School
Breakfast programs by requiring federal agencies to issue proper alerts to

Recalls of Contaminated Food Mandatory
For additional improvements to our food recall processes, Senator Gillibrand
will work with her colleagues to give the FDA the authority to order a
mandatory recall of a food product when a company fails to voluntarily recall
the produce upon FDA’s request.  Right now, recalls are only voluntary.


make sure information about food-borne illnesses and recalls is distributed
accurately and efficiently, Senator Gillibrand is authoring the Consumer
Recall Notification Act ­
– legislation that would direct the Secretaries of
the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA, as well as the
Commissioner of the FDA to improve communication among states, state and local
health departments, food distributors and vendors to provide consumers with
faster and more complete information.

the legislation would:

  • Provide
    information to health professionals to improve diagnosis and treatment of
    food-related illness;
  • Develop
    a procedure to distribute regional and national advisories concerning food safety;
  • Allow
    the FDA to share trade secrets, and commercial or financial information, and
    its list of registered facilities with other federal, state, local and foreign
    agencies – provided those agencies can assure confidentially of the
  • Allow
    the FDA to share confidential information with the public when necessary to
    protect public health;
  • Develop
    standardized formats for written and broadcast advisories;
  • Mandate
    on-site notification of a recalled product by posting notification in the
    freezer case or shelving unit where the product is, or has been sold.