The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is committed to transparency and keeping the public and stakeholders informed of our work upholding the safety of our food supply. As part of this continued commitment, we are releasing a new tool to communicate foodborne illness outbreak information frequently and as soon as the FDA begins an outbreak investigation – prior to a public health advisory or recall of a certain food product being issued.
On Nov. 18, our FDA investigation team, the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, started the ongoing publication of a new investigation table that will include information on all foodborne outbreaks for which the FDA has initiated an investigation. The table, which will be updated on a weekly basis, will include information about each stage of an outbreak investigation. Currently, a public health advisory or recall is issued for any outbreak investigation that results in specific, actionable steps consumers can take to protect themselves such as a recommendation to not eat a certain type of food or recalled food product. This practice will remain the same.
This new tool will allow the FDA to share information with the public even earlier in the process. However, it is important to note that during the early phases of an investigation, there may not be any specific action that consumers can take while information is being gathered and the investigation develops. For example, in the early stages of an investigation, we may not know what specific commodity or food vehicle is responsible for the illnesses and the time frame in which it was available for purchase. This information is crucial to the development of accurate public health messages to help protect consumers from exposure to potentially contaminated food and enable retailers and consumers to take appropriate actions.
The outbreak investigation table is a demonstration of our continued commitment to more frequent and transparent communication with stakeholders and consumers about outbreaks we’re investigating. We have already taken steps to release information early, in some cases prior to a specific food being linked to an outbreak, including in our recent communications on investigations into three ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks. We promised to soon take additional action to release information about outbreaks at the earliest stages of an investigation, and with the release of this new tool, as well as other efforts under our New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, we’re doing just that.
Although we won’t have all the information in the early phases of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation and often there isn’t specific actionable information for consumers, we believe that sharing what information we have early via this new table is crucial because it gives consumers and stakeholders an awareness of outbreaks being investigated by the FDA. As our investigations unfold, we will continue to develop our communication, including continued issuance of public health advisories or recalls when appropriate. In the interim, we recommend that consumers regularly consult our general food safety guidelines.
The FDA remains deeply committed to the safety of foods, whether produced domestically or imported from abroad. We continue to collaborate with our state, federal and international partners to help ensure the safety of American food products. And, we’ve made great strides modernizing and further safeguarding the U.S. food supply chain with implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Our New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative is focused on augmenting efforts implementing important requirements of FSMA, while also leveraging, among other things, the use of new and emerging technologies. Both FSMA and the New Era are focused on transforming the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illness to preventing it.
Paired with these ongoing efforts, the release of our new outbreak investigation table represents our ongoing commitment to the American people that we will work as fast and effectively as we can to communicate timely, early updates about our outbreak investigations and other ongoing efforts focused on protecting the public.