In an effort to shift its approach to foodborne illness from a fragmented process to a coordinated, prevention-oriented safety program, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will create a 40-person multidisciplinary team dedicated to foodborne disease outbreaks.
The team will be lead by a Chief Outbreak Director. According to a job posting from the FDA, the director will have “overall responsibility for leadership and management, policy development, decision making, strategic planning, and day-to-day operations for food-related outbreaks and food incidents affecting the public health of the nation and within the purview of the FDA.”
Michael Doyle, PhD, Regents Professor and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Griffin, said he supports the FDA’s efforts. “It’s a major commitment on the FDA’s part to enhance their outbreak investigation team,” he said. “Past challenges to the FDA’s investigation of outbreaks have been due in part to the fact that they haven’t had such an organized team, and they’ve had to pull people from different programs to react when outbreaks occur.”
Having a team already in place could reduce the time it takes to identify the source of a foodborne disease outbreak, Dr. Doyle said. As an example, he pointed to a Salmonella outbreak in 2008 that was first attributed to tomatoes, then only to tomatoes from certain areas, and finally jalapeño peppers from Texas and Serrano peppers from a Mexican farm. “The peppers were ultimately confirmed as the source, but it took a long time and cost the industry, especially in Florida, hundreds of millions of dollars. A team like this could save the industry unnecessary costs like that while better safeguarding the public,” Dr. Doyle said.