The new administration in Washington has yet to name an Under Secretary for Food Safety, but it has named a “power player” as Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. She can take office immediately as Senate confirmation is not required for the USDA job.
Named in the secondary role at USDA’s Office for Food Safety (OFS) is Sandra Eskin, (above) long known as the food safety project director for The Pew Charitable Trusts. In that role, Eskin was known for bringing diverse parties together to work on common solutions for food safety challenges.
She’s led Pew’s work on food safety in the charitable trust’s campaign to reduce health risks from foodborne pathogens by working with the federal government, industry and other stakeholders to improve food safety.
Until the president nominates and the U.S. Senate confirms a USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, Eskin will head the OFS, which is charged with carrying out the Biden Administration’s food safety priorities.
Although multiple deputies have served in the past, it’s likely Eskin will replace former Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Administrator Paul Kiecker, who was “acting deputy” during the transition.
Working closely with stakeholders and food safety partners across government, the OFS provides leadership and vision for its sole agency, the FSIS, to ensure that the nation’s supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome and properly labeled.
Before joining Pew, she was a public policy consultant to consumer and public interest organizations, providing strategic and policy advice on a range of consumer protection issues, including food safety, dietary supplement safety, and food and drug labeling and advertising
Eskin also was a federal government staff attorney, legislative representative for the Consumer Federation of America, deputy director of the Produce Safety Project — a Pew initiative at Georgetown University — and has served on numerous federal advisory committees.
Eskin received her bachelor’s degree in classics and semiotics from Brown University and a Juris Doctor from the University of California Hastings College of the Law.
She frequently comments on food safety issues. Food Safety News has collected several examples of her written opinions that were offered during the past year, including:
- The Food and Drug Administration’s decision late last year not to order a mandatory recall of yellowfin tuna that sickened at least 50 people in 11 states threatens to undermine a crucial tool of last resort to protect consumers from hazardous food. FDA leaders should reverse course and require that the company responsible for these products remove them from the market.
- Foodborne Salmonella causes more than 1 million illnesses a year in the United States and is showing no sign of declining. With chicken, the most consumed meat in the U.S. and a significant source of these infections, strategies to reduce Salmonella contamination along the entire poultry production chain could reduce the impact of this disease. No vaccines exist to fend off Salmonella infections in humans, but vaccination programs for chickens and turkeys — combined with other on-farm interventions — have helped significantly reduce contamination from some of the many varieties, or serotypes, that make people sick. This progress is encouraging.
- Effective efforts to prevent foodborne illnesses require expanded and improved collaboration throughout the food safety system to ensure that emerging pathogens can be spotted and addressed as early as possible. Increased coordination among industry and public sector stakeholders, along with dissemination of identifying information and other surveillance data that can provide critical warnings, is crucial to enhancing the United States’ response to new or growing food safety risks. Without such steps, Americans’ food supply will remain unacceptably vulnerable to contamination by new strains of bacteria and other pathogens.
- The Food and Drug Administration unveiled a blueprint on July 13 for its plans to improve food safety over the next decade amid a host of challenges, among them recurring disease outbreaks linked to leafy greens and changes in the ways that food reaches consumers. Titled “New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” the document emphasizes the central role of root cause analysis (RCA) in developing stronger systems to reduce contamination and human illness.
- Dangerous E. coli bacteria that caused three foodborne illness outbreaks in late 2019 most likely came from cattle that grazed near fields of romaine lettuce or leafy greens, according to a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration report. FDA’s findings make clear that growers, ranchers, and local, state, and federal agencies must work together to prevent contamination of leafy greens by pathogens commonly present in animal fecal matter. This food safety problem cannot be solved by a single industry or regulatory authority.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressed his support, saying “Sandra’s deep experience in food safety will strengthen USDA’s dedication to ensuring a safe, secure food supply for consumers and help to protect the safety of federal meat inspectors and workers throughout the food chain.”
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