FDA Aims to Speed Up Outbreak Communications

The agency’s new tool will share foodborne illness investigation information in the early stages.

November 20, 2020

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a new tool to communicate foodborne illness outbreak information frequently and as soon as the FDA begins an outbreak investigation, all prior to a public health advisory or recall of a certain food product being issued.

The FDA investigation team, called the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, is starting the ongoing publication of a new investigation table that will include information on all foodborne outbreaks for which the FDA has initiated an investigation. The table, which will be updated on a weekly basis, will include information about each stage of an outbreak investigation. Currently, a public health advisory or recall is issued for any outbreak investigation that results in specific, actionable steps consumers can take to protect themselves, such as a recommendation to not eat a certain type of food or recalled food product. This practice will remain the same.

This new tool will allow the agency to share information with the public even earlier in the process. However, it is important to note that during the early phases of an investigation, there may not be any specific action consumers can take while information is being gathered and the investigation develops. For example, in the early stages of an investigation, the specific commodity or food vehicle responsible for the illnesses and the time frame in which it was available for purchase might not be known. This information is crucial to the development of accurate public health messages to help protect consumers from exposure to potentially contaminated food and enable retailers and consumers to take appropriate actions, the agency said.

“As our investigations unfold, we will continue to develop our communication, including continued issuance of public health advisories or recalls when appropriate. In the interim, we recommend that consumers regularly consult our general food safety guidelines,” the agency said in its notice. “Paired with these ongoing efforts, the release of our new outbreak investigation table represents our ongoing commitment to the American people that we will work as fast and [as] effectively as we can to communicate timely, early updates about our outbreak investigations and other ongoing efforts focused on protecting the public.”