April 24, 2018

Two USDA Agencies Collaborate on Outbreak Cause Assessment

Two US. Department of Agriculture agencies are going to collaborate on an effort to assess the root cause in foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. Every year in this country, 48,000,000 people are sickened with a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

usdaartThe Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details the responsibilities and roles of each agency.

The assessments include observational study design, questionnaire development, collection of data and samples, and statistical analysis and reporting. Those facets are all included in the investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak. The assessment team will also provide “frequent, descriptive updates” on an ongoing outbreak, and all keep the CDC, FDA, and State Departments of Health informed of the investigation.

Once the assessment is complete, further detailed analysis could help the agencies understand factors associated with the outbreak and may give public health officials options for preventing or controlling future outbreaks. The producer of the food responsible may be informed about the assessment so they can end the practices that may have contributed to the outbreak.

The MOU also states that “information and data obtained, produced, maintained during, or derived from root cause assessments … will be protected against unauthorized use, disclosure, or release.” This prevents the disclosure of data protected by the Trade Secrets Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Food Security Act of 1985. This part of the agreement has prevented the government from releasing the names of restaurants, mainly, who have been the cause of outbreaks in the past. The agreement also identifies which part of the outbreak, from product recall to on-farm assessments, each agency will cover.

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