FDA Food and Drug Administration Health Product Standard Control System.

Frontline staff and distributors for foodservice facilities recently received some promising news when it comes to preventing the likelihood of foodborne illnesses and keeping occupants safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced the release of Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan. This plan is designed to help the FDA and our partners enhance the speed, effectiveness, coordination and communication of foodborne outbreak investigations. We are confident that the actions outlined in this plan will in turn translate into activities focused on enhancing the prevention of outbreaks.

As part of our work implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and our New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, we have collaborated with experts in both the public and private sectors for input on additional ways to strengthen the agency’s outbreak response. Input from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health officials, industry and consumer foodborne outbreak experts, along with the input of FDA leadership and staff, was key to the development of our new improvement plan. 

The agency also contracted with the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health to assess the FDA’s capacity to support, join, or lead multi-state outbreak investigations and to provide recommendations in an independent report, which we are also making public today. This report played an important role in the development of our new plan.

The Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan focuses on four specific priority areas in which 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. We will work to harmonize our efforts with our 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 CDC, the USDA’s FSIS and other partners to identify reoccurring, emerging and persistent strains of pathogens. Specifically, we 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 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.