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FDA Issues Improvement Plan Focused on Modernizing Foodborne Illness Outbreak Responses

The plan will focus on four specific priority areas in which improvements will have the most impact on outbreaks associated with human food.

December 9, 2021


SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan, which focuses on four specific priority areas in which the agency said the improvements will have the most impact on outbreaks associated with human food.

  • Tech-enabled product traceback — Engaging smarter ways to digitize and routinely receive information needed to streamline the traceback process, which are the steps we use to pinpoint the source of contaminated foods during investigations. These tactics include obtaining more complete voluntarily provided consumer purchase data to better specify critical traceback information, facilitating and expediting how the FDA receives data and employing more advanced analytical methods and computational approaches. The agency said it will work to harmonize its efforts with federal, state, local and territorial counterparts, as well with industry and others involved in traceback investigations.
  • Root-cause investigations (RCIs) — Systematizing, expediting and sharing FDA RCIs. The plan focuses on adapting and strengthening protocols and procedures for conducting timely RCIs of foodborne illness outbreaks, standardizing criteria for producing FDA RCI reports and expediting the release of investigation findings to industry and the public.
  • Strengthen analysis and dissemination of outbreak data — Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) and other partners to identify reoccurring, emerging and persistent strains of pathogens. Specifically, FDA will facilitate improvements to sharing of data with the CDC as well as other regulatory partners to further increase transparency of outbreak investigations, increase public confidence in results and facilitate improved collaboration on investigation activities.
  • Operational improvements — Building on performance measures across the FDA’s foods program to better evaluate the timeliness and effectiveness of outbreak and regulatory investigation activities. The FDA said it is committed to using performance and outcome measures to assess progress of this improvement plan by updating stakeholders, posting updates on FDA.gov and through a public webinar in early 2022 to discuss how regulatory partners, industry and others can work together to achieve these goals.

"We know that the 21st century has brought new challenges in identifying, investigating and controlling outbreaks of foodborne disease, but it has also brought new tools to meet those challenges," said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, and Stic Harris, director of the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network. "We also recognize that today’s U.S. food system is large and decentralized, with a broad array of widely distributed products, which we must adapt to in order to help ensure the safety of these products. That is why we are taking steps through this improvement plan to evolve our outbreak investigations to meet modern-day needs using the most modern-day tools available. Our investigations must be faster, more streamlined and more effective to identify, pinpoint and remove contaminated food from the market and identify root-cause factors in the food system to prevent similar outbreaks in the future."

To read the full announcement, head here.