FDA, states creating teams for foodborne disease response

Apr 9, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – To streamline foodborne illness investigations, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has partnered with six states to form rapid response teams, an FDA official said today.

At a press conference today to announce the annual FoodNet report, David Acheson, MD, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods, said six states—California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina—have received FDA grants to establish rapid response team pilot programs. The federal support enables states to set up the infrastructure for outbreak response teams incorporating both federal and state investigators.

"This will allow us to move more quickly when there is a response," Acheson said, adding that the FDA hopes to expand the program to three more states.

Acheson said the pilot program in the six states is modeled after a longstanding arrangement the FDA has with California, the California Food Emergency Response Team (CalFERT).

At a Senate food safety hearing in November 2006, following the Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to fresh spinach, Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) described CalFERT as a specially trained, exercised group of microbiologists, field investigators, epidemiologists, and others with expertise in farm investigations and produce tracebacks.

"In the past, FDA and CDHS investigators would conduct parallel but separate investigations, often resulting in duplication of effort, lack of standardized investigative processes and procedures, and confusion for regulated firms," Reilly said in published testimony.

Acheson said the CalFERT model allows state and federal investigators to get to a facility quickly to conduct an investigation. "It's done as a joint effort, and this is seen as obviously being a response element, not a whole cadre of new FDA people being hired to sit in state offices," he said.

Heidi Kassenborg, DVM, dairy and food inspection director at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said Minnesota applied for FDA rapid response funding in August 2008 and received the money in October. She said the main goals of the pilot program are to build food inspection capacity, improve outbreak response, and help develop standards for federally contracted state inspectors.

The grant money has allowed Minnesota to backfill some positions to allow more experienced inspectors and investigators to develop response and traceback systems that cut across different state agencies, she said. "We've been able to improve our response in the short time we've had the grant," Kassenborg said, adding that she hopes the pilot project evolves into a long-term program.

See also:

Nov 15, 2006, Senate subcommittee testimony from Kevin Reilly

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