Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday that while the E. coli outbreak unfolding in Europe poses no immediate threat to the U.S., the Department of Agriculture is monitoring the situation.

The Hamburg, Germany-centered outbreak, caused by a rare pathogen, E. coli 0104:H4, has claimed at least 18 lives, sickened more than 1,600 and hospitalized hundreds with potentially lethal kidney failure, according to the latest press accounts.

When asked about the foodborne disaster at a news conference Thursday, Vilsack said USDA and the Food and Drug Administration would remain vigilant in the face of emerging pathogens.

“Obviously we’re going to keep an eye on what’s going on Europe,” Vilsack told reporters. “But, at this point in time, I have no reason to believe what’s specifically occurring in Europe is somehow going to happen over here, because of what happened in Europe.”

“I think we have to constantly be vigilant and we have to constantly look for ways to improve food safety and that requires us to make sure that we’re testing for the right things,” said Vilsack.

“As science becomes more sophisticated, as testing equipment becomes better and more specific, we learn more. And as we learn more, we obviously have to do more.”

“We obviously take food safety very, very seriously here at USDA … we are continually working to figure out ways in which we can prevent illness and disease from occurring,” added Vilsack, citing USDA’s new bench trim testing program and poultry performance standards.