Often during the holiday season, we take time to reconnect with family and friends over a meal. We're able to do so because hardworking folks in rural America deliver the most abundant and affordable food supply on earth.

It's also the safest food supply - an achievement made possible by a wide range of skilled, dedicated people.

It all starts with our growers and processors, who are always asking how they can produce a safer product. They have the support of USDA staff at more than 6,000 plants around the country and at U.S. ports of entry. These experts inspect a wide range of food products before they're sent to the grocery store.

The Obama Administration has worked hard to strengthen our food safety efforts. Four years ago we created the President's Food Safety Working Group - which has brought together experts from across government and industry to improve food safety.

Since then, we've expanded testing of raw beef products to prevent dangerous pathogens from entering the food supply; in fact, new enforcement measures to detect additional strains of E. Coli began in March 2012.

USDA expects to prevent 25,000 more foodborne illnesses annually thanks to tougher standards we set for Salmonella and new standards for Campylobacter which will reduce the occurrence of these pathogens in poultry.

We've invested tens of millions of dollars on cutting-edge food safety research. And we’re better coordinated than ever, thanks to a new Public Health Information System. This system allows us to track emerging trends, keeping us ahead of food safety threats and allowing us to take proactive steps to solve problems.

Finally, we are helping share information with consumers. Raw meat and poultry now include nutrition labels so Americans can make better-informed choices at the grocery store. Through our expanded “Ask Karen” web page, folks have a chance to get advice directly from a food safety expert.  Consumers can visit www.fsis.usda.gov to use this tool and to learn more about preventing foodborne illness.

By preventing food contamination, we can save businesses and taxpayers from the costs of food recalls. We can help maintain the good name of American agriculture around the world.  And most important of all, we can keep families safe from foodborne illnesses.

This holiday season, I encourage Americans to stay informed about food safety as they enjoy time with family and friends. I also hope everyone will join me in thanking the farmers who grow our food, and the dedicated Federal employees who help keep it safe.