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FDA Outbreak Table to Communicate Early and Often

FDA Outbreak Table to Communicate Early and Often

Last week, the FDA issued a new tool intended to more quickly and frequently communicate foodborne illness outbreak information – prior to the issuance of a public health advisory or recall.

The new Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Investigation Table will include information on all foodborne outbreaks for which the FDA has initiated an investigation. Updated weekly, it will include information about each stage of an outbreak investigation. With information provided as soon as the FDA begins its response to an outbreak, the table is intended to give consumers early awareness of developing multistate outbreaks across the US.

Listing outbreaks in all stages of an investigation, the table includes:

  • Date Posted (date it is determined an outbreak may involve an FDA-regulated food)
  • FDA-Assigned Reference Number
  • Pathogen
  • Product(s) Linked to Illnesses (if any)
  • Total Case Count
  • Investigation Status
  • Outbreak Status
  • Recall Initiated
  • Traceback Initiated
  • On-Site Inspection Initiated
  • Sample Collection & Analysis Initiated

The investigation webpage also includes detailed definitions of each of the above and contact information for consumers to report foodborne illness symptoms.

Once an investigation uncovers enough information to develop specific recommendations for consumers, retailers, and industry, the FDA will implement its standard communication processes and tools, including a public health advisory with actionable steps for consumers. The FDA has also set the outbreak investigation table to align with CDC efforts to provide information on the number of illness clusters it is investigating each week. The table is currently being published as a six-month pilot, during which FDA is requesting feedback, and after which the table may be adjusted.

The FDA sees the table as a “stepping stone to help the public move from having little knowledge of an outbreak, through each stage of the investigation, and in the best-case scenarios, investigating agencies can provide detailed, actionable advice.” As investigations evolve, the information on the table will be updated, enabling outbreak information to be shared early and regularly “as a demonstration of the FDA’s commitment to more real-time and transparent communication with stakeholders and consumers about outbreaks we’re investigating.”

As of this writing, the table includes seven outbreaks, all of which have had tracebacks initiated, with two listed as ended; one with a current outbreak advisory; and many including links to further information and advice. The table also includes the current investigations into the three ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks.

What does this mean to the industry and for consumers? On the positive side, it provides the industry with earlier, ongoing information of investigations enabling you to track potential issues with your own ingredients and products. But it also means that it is vital that you, too, become increasingly transparent – stay on top of outbreaks, communicate with your customers, and issue recalls as soon as possible. From a consumer perspective, the FDA is striving to communicate “actionable advice,” however six of the seven outbreaks in the investigation table are noted under the products implicated as “not yet identified,” thus leaving consumers with a “so what do we do now” question. While I applaud the FDA for its increasing transparency, I do have concerns that the investigation table will cause concerns amongst consumers on what to do with the information. So perhaps a clearer statement on what should be done with this information would be helpful.

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