U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to an audience of over 700 food safety education experts yesterday, emphasizing the Administration’s commitment to overhauling the food safety system and shifting towards more preventative regulatory strategies.

“Preventing foodborne illness is a top priority for President Obama and USDA. We want to make sure parents never put their children at risk because of what they serve at the kitchen table,” said Vilsack, via video, to a large crowd gathered in Atlanta, Georgia for the 2010 Food Safety Education Conference, a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and NSF International, a not-for-profit NGO leader in standards development, testing and certification.

Vilsack speech 320 px.jpg“[E]ach year millions of Americans get sick by eating contaminated food, hundreds of thousands go to the hospital, and, unfortunately, thousands die,” said Vilsack. “The status quo is not acceptable.”

“We obviously must do better,” he added. “We must do a better job ensuring that the food Americans consume is safe and the public has all the information to keep their families healthy.”

“President Obama is challenging all of us involved in food safety to do a better job,” said Vilsack, adding that he has ordered a “thorough” review of all USDA food safety programs.

Vilsack and other top public health officials who spoke before the food safety conference emphasized the critical role the President’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) is playing in improving interagency coordination and strategy to prevent illnesses from happening in the first place.

The secretary also, fittingly, discussed how food safety education fits into the Administration’s overall prevention strategy. He pointed to the revamped FoodSafety.gov site, which creates a “one-stop” website for consumer food safety information, and said Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook have an important role for disseminating critical information.

“The USDA is already using these technologies to more effectively communicate with the public–and I’m pleased this meeting will explore those new avenues and many more for teaching Americans about food safety.”

Vilsack encouraged food safety educators to keep working hard, and he offered his strong support for their efforts.

“I know that your work goes unrecognized far too often,” he said. “There are no front page stories when a successful recall prevents contaminated foods from entering the supermarket. I’d like to take this opportunity to share my appreciation for all that you do.”

For more information on the Administration’s food safety initiatives, visit: www.foodsafetyworkingroup.gov.