New Report on Strengthening the US Response to Foodborne Disease Outbreaks


When Good Food Goes Bad: Strengthening the US Response to Foodborne disease Outbreaks

The Center for Biosecurity of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has released a new report that highlights foodborne illness and the importance of early detection. The report suggests there is a strong need for the US government to fund programs and technologies that could enhance our ability to quickly identify the food that causes an outbreak in order to minimize health risks and economic damages.

From the report: “Foodborne illness sickens or kills an extraordinary number of people each year. It also has great economic costs. Last year, an outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupe in the United States sickened 146 and killed 30. In 2011, another outbreak in Germany that was eventually linked to contaminated sprouts, sickened more than 4,000 and caused at least 50 deaths. Foodborne disease outbreak response is a critical part of reducing the consequences of outbreaks that will occur in the future. If public health officials can more quickly recognize when a foodborne illness outbreak has occurred and identify the food causing the outbreak, lives can be saved and economic losses averted. The lessons learned from outbreak investigations can be used by industry and government to address the underlying causes of contamination that lead to illness, thus making food safer for everyone.”

“The Center for Biosecurity of UPMC [University of Pittsburgh Medical Center] produced this report to catalyze improvements in the country’s ability to respond to large foodborne disease outbreaks. We analyzed the existing data and studies on foodborne illness outbreak response, identified emerging trends, and interviewed dozens of federal and state level officials and experts from industry, professional organizations, academia, and relevant international organizations. The report puts forth a series of recommendations to accelerate and strengthen responses to foodborne illness outbreaks in the US.”

The report cites the following findings:

1) Foodborne illness outbreaks continue to impose enormous health and economic burdens in the US.
2) Effective surveillance for and rapid response to foodborne illness outbreaks are critical to overall preparedness.
3) National surveillance programs have led to meaningful improvements in the detection of foodborne illness outbreaks and can drive improvements in food safety.
4) Determining the source of foodborne illness outbreaks remains the top response challenge and will likely become harder as the complexity of the food supply increases.
5) Heterogeneity in states’ capacities to detect and respond to outbreaks creates national vulnerabilities.
6) The increased adoption of culture-independent diagnostic testing by the clinical sector threatens to undermine early detection of foodborne illness outbreaks.
7) Tapping nontraditional data sources may help improve detection and response to outbreaks.
8) Better integration of existing surveillance programs is necessary to improve outbreak detection and response.
9) Federal funding cuts are expected to compromise the public health system’s ability to respond to foodborne illness outbreaks.
10) The Food Safety Modernization Act has the potential to significantly improve the safety of the US food supply, but it will likely do little to improve public health response to foodborne illness outbreaks.

The Center for Biosecurity recommendations include:

1) The US government should fund the development of next-generation technologies that provide rapid diagnosis while preserving the capacity to identify and resolve large outbreaks.
2) Congress should restore funding to state health departments.
3) The US should develop a foodborne illness outbreak response network that taps the expertise and data that exist in the private sector.
4) Congress should adequately fund and agencies should fully implement FSMA, including provisions for strengthening surveillance and response to outbreaks.
5) The US government should improve integration of existing foodborne illness surveillance efforts.

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