October 26, 2014

USDA Unveils New Tool To Help Public Health Scientists Target Pathogen Risk

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just unveiled a new tool called the Microbial Risk Assessment (MRA) Guideline. It was developed with the EPA to help scientists improve the quality of data collected to protect consumers from pathogens in food and water. The Guideline focuses on infectious diseases associated with the GI tract and fecal or oral transmission of pathogens in food and water.

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, said, “this new tool will help public health scientists target pathogen-related risks and prevent them from harming the public. We will continue to enhance the tools at our disposal to keep pace with evolving pathogens in our environment with the ultimate goal of protecting the American public and the food supply.”

The MRA Guideline offers scientists a broad approach to conduct meaningful assessments of the risks of pathogen exposure.  The document provides comprehensive, specific, and descriptive information for developing assessments of microbial risk in food and water. The Guideline will help health officials look for common exposure sources, causative agents, symptoms, contributing immunity factors, and other threads that contribute to chronic illness.

Routes of exposure, the method of bacteria or viral transport, assumptions for exposure are all important factors when characterizing risk of illness caused by pathogens. The Epidemiological Triangle, which includes the host, environment, and pathogen, is crucial to understanding the risk of foodborne illness.

Any microbial Risk Assessment should be as quantitative as possible, relying on numbers. The four goals of the MRA are to mitigate adverse effects from a specific event or outbreak, to confirm if regulations are adequate, to decide how to establish regulations and policies, and to investigate outbreaks and risk management. You can take a look at the MRA at the FSIS web site.

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