As a way to inform people about the government's efforts to provide food during the COVID-19 pandemic, one former Texas Tech professor engaged the Lubbock community through a virtual lecture Tuesday.
Mindy Brashears, former Tech professor of food safety and former director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Tech, started her role as the United States Department of Agriculture's under secretary for food safety after the Senate confirmed the appointment Monday night. Before the appointment, she has been serving as the deputy under secretary for food safety since Jan. 29, 2019.
During a Lubbock Chamber of Commerce Salute to Ag event, which was hosted virtually on Zoom Tuesday to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 from spreading, Brashears discussed the tasks that come of her position, ways the USDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service are working to provide food to Americans during the pandemic and general food safety policies and tips.
Norma Ritz Johnson, Lubbock Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, said Brashears is the highest-ranking food safety official in the U.S.
"In this role as under secretary, Brashears leads the nation's regulatory oversight for insuring that meat, poultry and processed egg products are safe, whole some and accurately labeled," Johnson said. "She also serves as chair of the U.S. CODEX Policy committee and offers expert, scientific guidance for the CODEX Program."
There are many tasks an under secretary completes on a daily basis, Brashears said. She is a member of sub-cabinet for the U.S.
"I work a lot with the secretary of ag, and I am the highest public health official in the USDA," she said. "So, we oversee the inspection of the food supply and the safety of the food supply."
Currently, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) agency Brashears oversees is operating under the the agency's pandemic action plan.
"First of all, I want to say that there are no food safety issues associated with COVID-19," she said. "It is not a food-born pathogen, it's a respiratory pathogen."
Food is not considered a source that allows the virus to transfer from person to person, as there are no documented cases of this occurring, Brashears said.
"Currently, our food employees are required to operate under sanitation standard operating procedures," she said. "These procedures are procedures for cleaning. They also include procedures for hand-washing and for wearing gloves as necessary and [personal protective equipment] in a food-processing establishment in order to prevent food contamination from an employee."
In addition, there are no shortages of meat and poultry despite supermarket shelves being empty because of people who hoard items, Brashears said.
"This is not necessary," she said. "We don't need this to happen. You can go to the store each week, buy your product just as you have in the past."
At FSIS, Brashears said workers are focusing their efforts in three areas of general food safety: leading with science, influencing behavior changes and building relationships.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one factor that influences behavior changes in the area of food safety, as people are washing hands more often. The FSIS relationships consist of working with institutions, such as universities, to conduct research and solve food-safety problems.
For leadership in science, Brashears said FSIS is working to protect people from food-born illnesses. Her time at Tech gave her some worthwhile work experience.
"They gave me a solid foundation in science," she said regarding her time at Tech.
Brashears said she is on a leave of absence from Tech and plans to go back after her time in Washington, D.C.
"I want to give a shout-out to the administration of Texas Tech who have accommodated many changes and all of the things I had to do in order to get here," she said.