USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service rolled out a new annual plan at a meeting in Austin with small meat and poultry operators. Mindy Brashears, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, described a sort of stream of consciousness in producing the new plan.

“I sat down in December, and I just started writing, and at the end of the day, I had 18 pages and an appendix,” Brashears told the FSIS listening redoubtable for small plants. “I had help boiling it down into a vision for where I wanted to go and how it all works together.”

An industry publication called Meatingplace first reported Brashears’s remarks to the Austin audience.

The USDA deputy undersecretary is currently the highest-ranking food safety official in the United States. Brashears, who has held the post for the past year, is also the president’s choice for USDA’s undersecretary for food safety. In this Congress, and the one before it, the Senate Committee on Agriculture recommended Brashears’ confirmation, but the Senate still has not found the time for the vote.

As deputy, Brashears heads up the Office of Food Safety at USDA, overseeing the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which has regulatory oversight for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.

Brashears also serves as chair of the U.S. CODEX Policy Committee and offers expert scientific guidance to the CODEX Program, an international food standards-setting body of 188 member countries, that protects consumer health and sets international food standards.

She told the small plant operators that she had spent a year talking and listening to the agency’s stakeholders, from FSIS employees to consumers to industry groups to inspectors to district office staff and laboratory scientists, “to name a few.”

“I realized that from a regulatory science standpoint, the question I have to ask is, do the resources, time, and efforts we’re investing impact the public health?” she said.

“The three parts of FSIS 2020 Vision will help us answer that question,” Brashears said. “By ensuring that we have data-driven science and technology, that all stakeholders work collaboratively and in partnership toward common goals, and that we better educate industry and consumers about food safety behaviors, FSIS will make a positive impact on public health and safety of the nation’s food supply.”

The Vision 2020 plan has three parts: lead with science, build relationships, and influence change in behavior. Brashears, a former Texas Tech Univesity food safety professor, makes it clear that FSIS will operate as a “science-based agency” that implements “data-driven policies.”

She says FSIS should “proactively” build relationships, including Congress and other federal health partners, to consumers and industry. On changing behavior, Btashears wants to identify risky consumer behaviors and strive to influence behavior change.

Somethings won’t change. FSIS will continue to focus surveillance on the processes and facilities that pose the highest risk to public health, says FSIS Administrator Carmen M. Rottenberg. Her message introduces the new plan.

During her first year as deputy undersecretary, Brashears finalized rulemaking for the modernization of swine inspection, implemented pathogen reduction performance standards, and worked on behavior changes to reduce foodborne illnesses.

Brashears is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors who has received numerous awards including the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) Laboratorian Award, the American Meat Science Association (AMSA) Distinguished Research Award, the AMSA Distinguished Industry Service Award, AMSA Achievement Award, and was named to the National Provisioner’s Top 25 Future Icons in the Meat Industry.

She has an extensive publication record in peer-reviewed journals and also holds more than 25 patents for her innovative approaches to improving food safety in the food supply.

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