Need Practice Preparing for Food Safety Crises?

You’re an official with a state office of public health, and reports have begun to come in about cases of E. coli 0157:H7 in your own and a neighboring state. The information seems to point to produce as the source of the contamination. What do you do next? As you move forward with identification of the product involved, how do you decide when to issue a public health notice about the suspected food?

If you’re using FREE-B, the new boxed set of five food safety crisis scenarios now available from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can answer these and dozens of other questions—and assess your own readiness for just such a situation—by playing along in a tabletop exercise either on your own or collaborating with multiple other entities such as first responders, law enforcement, and industry.

Released in late July, FREE-B was designed by the FDA in collaboration with experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The web-based collection of scenarios, available on the FDA’s site, aims to give all entities involved in food safety a standardized way to test out their protocols, procedures, and preparedness for handling food safety emergencies.

“Exercises like these have been done in the past on an ad hoc basis, but this new offering from the FDA makes the approach more standardized,” said Michael Doyle, PhD, Regents Professor of food microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Griffin.

Dr. Doyle has reviewed the scenarios and pronounced them all to be on point, particularly “Wilted Woes,” the produce module. “They all look like they’re very good representations of likely scenarios that would challenge the organizations involved and help them see how well they would respond to an emergency,” he said. He suggested that state agencies and representatives of the food industry should take advantage of these free tools and run some of the scenarios collaboratively.

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