Jerold Mande, the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, told a University of Florida audience last week that as many as 80 percent of foodborne illnesses could be caused by agents other than the top 30 pathogens that are currently being tracked.  These agents could be responsible for 70 percent of hospitalizations and 65 percent of deaths attributed to foodborne illness.

Mande’s remarks came at dedication ceremonies for Florida’s new Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) located in Gainesville.  He urged the new institute to focus its research in four areas.

“First, we need your expertise to develop new and better tools to help America’s farmers and ranchers join the fight against foodborne pathogens. To take the next big step forward on food safety we need to do more to have fewer pathogens on food animals when they arrive at the slaughterhouse gate,” Mande said.

“Second, we need more effective testing. We need better sampling methods based solidly in science. We need better tests that more rapidly detect a broader range of harmful pathogens, including whether pathogens are resistant to antimicrobials. We also need stronger assurance that laboratories used by companies have the expertise and experience to do effective food safety testing.

“Third, we need to arm our frontline inspectors with more sensitive and effective ways to detect foodborne hazards. FSIS has been given a powerful legal tool requiring us to inspect each animal carcass on its way to becoming the food we eat. We need to do a better a job equipping our inspectors with the means to not let harmful pathogens slip by as we stand watch.

“Finally, we need to discover the unidentified pathogens that are still responsible for the majority of foodborne illness. I don’t think it will surprise any of you here today when I say that too large an amount of foodborne illnesses and deaths is attributed to unknown agents.

“In fact, according to CDC, as many as 80 percent of illnesses, 70 percent of hospitalizations, and 65 percent of deaths could be caused by agents other than the 30 pathogens they currently track.

“We must meet these challenges.”

Until the U.S. Senate confirms Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as the new Under Secretary for Food Safety, Mande remains on top of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, currently USDA’s chief medical officer, was nominated Jan. 25th, more than a year after President Obama took office.  That why it has been left to Mande since his appointment last summer to speak for FSIS.

“We appreciate the work of researchers who help us understand the pathogens that threaten the safety of our food supply. What they are. How they emerge, evolve, and spread–or more simply put: how they travel from farm to plate,” Mande told the University of Florida audience.

“It is only by understanding these pathogens that we’re able to develop smart policies to combat them,” he added.

Others speaking at the dedication ceremonies included: UF President Dr. Bernie Machen, UF VP for Research Dr. Win Phillips, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros, Florida Deputy Commissioner for Agriculture Dr. Joanne Brown, and Infectious Disease Society of America president-elect Dr. Jim Hughes.