August 10, 2020

When Good Food Goes Bad: The Problems

The Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has released a report titled “When Good Food Goes Bad: Strengthening the U.S. Response to Foodborne Disease Outbreaks.” It is designed to improve the country’s ability to respond to large foodborne illness outbreaks. The authors identify emerging trends in outbreak response and recommend ways to accelerate and strengthen public health reaction to these outbreaks. For part two of this story, see When Good Food Goes Bad: The Recommendations.

Cyclospora Outbreak Kwik Trip Minnesota WisconsinThere are ten major findings in the report. The first is that medical expenses and lost productivity cost this country more than $77 billion every year. And that the level of resources devoted to “preventing and responding to such outbreaks” is very small in comparison. They also state that surveillance for outbreaks and rapid response when an outbreak occurs is critical to preparedness. Maintaining state, local, and federal health departments is crucial.

The authors found that national surveillance programs have improved foodborne illness outbreak detection. PulseNet, FoodCORE, and FoodNet have worked as designed, and they have identified previously unrecognized problems in the food supply. The top challenge for public health officials is determining the source of outbreaks. Unfortunately, this task will only become more difficult since the food supply chain is becoming more complex.

There are vulnerabilities in the nation’s foodborne illness detection and prevention system because local, regional, and state health departments have different budgets, procedures, and capabilities. ┬áNumber six: culture-independent diagnostic testing is undermining early detection of foodborne illness outbreaks. While that type of testing gets faster results, the lack of culture reduces the identification of isolates that form the basis of public health surveillance.

Nontraditional data sources, such as shopper’s club cards, is helping improving detection and response to outbreaks. The authors also state that existing programs at the CDC, FDA, and USDA need to be better integrated to improve outbreak detection and response.

Finally, point nine addresses the federal funding cuts. The report states, “since 2005, there has been a net decline in teh amount of federal funding available to support public health preparedness, while at the same time, state governments have drastically reduced their investments in public health.” This will result in slower recognition of foodborne illness outbreaks and the delayed ability – or even inability – to identify the responsible contaminated foods. The authors end by stating that the Food Safety Modernization Act “has the potential to significantly improve the safety of the U.S. food supply, but it will likely do little to improve public health response to foodborne illness outbreaks.”



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