The federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually.
The FDA has a new Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan to speed up and improve communication related to food safety investigations.
The new plan will focus three key areas that will have a direct effect on grocery retailers and suppliers: product tracing, root cause investigations, and the use of the FDA's Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network data.
"We believe that improvements in these three areas will play a significant role in improving the speed, accuracy, and effectiveness of the FDA’s overall outbreak response and coordination with relevant federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and international counterparts, and industry stakeholders," according to a statement from the FDA.
Specifically, the FDA plans to:
- Tech-enabled product traceback – Improve utilization of consumer purchase data to better specify critical traceback information needed from industry, which will streamline additional traceback steps. The FDA will also work to harmonize efforts with relevant federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial counterparts so that they too will be able to advance how they request, receive, and analyze traceback data. The FDA will also work with industry and other stakeholders involved in tracebacks to show them new processes and encourage/help them adopt these new techniques for their traceback efforts.
- Root cause investigations (RCIs) – The FDA will adapt and strengthen protocols and procedures for conducting timely RCIs to ensure it can conduct simultaneous investigations, when necessary. The FDA will standardize criteria and formats for producing reports on RCIs of outbreaks. The FDA will expedite the release of investigation findings and their implications directly with the affected industry and to the public.
- Analysis and dissemination of outbreak data – The FDA will work with CDC, USDA-FSIS, and other health partners to identify reoccurring, emerging, and persistent strains of pathogens. It will facilitate sharing of data with CDC and other regulatory partners. And the FDA will increase transparency of outbreak investigations to increase widespread public confidence in results and help facilitate improved collaboration on investigation activities.
- Operational improvements – The FDA plans to streamline the internal process used to make field assignments and information requests. The agency will work to assure that RCI findings result in an actionable prevention strategy and help determine FDA food program priorities. Importantly, the FDA will build in performance measures across the FDA’s foods program to better evaluate the timeliness and effectiveness of outbreak and regulatory investigation activities.
The FDA says its new action plan was developed by both internal and external reviews of current outbreak response activities.